Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Weekly Sweep

  • Andrew Bird - Anonanimal [Myspace]
  • Animal Collective - My Girls [YouTube]
  • Blue Roses - Doubtful Comforts [Myspace]
  • Brakes - Hey Hey [YouTube]
  • Dananananaykroyd - Black Wax [Myspace] (Their influences, according to their Fan Facebook page: "Esther Rantzen, Beat 107.2^10, Niko Bellic, Guybrush Threepwood, Rico Tubbs, Sayid from Lost, Hiro from Glasgow (The Naked King Who's Always Searching For More Gold), Gamelaaf". And their interests: "Making music, doggies, homosexuals, vegetarians, women, a strong ethical belief system, blood orange juice, Die Hard (Quadrilogy), "Where's your foot?", mobile internet, chrisps, eating milks, nothing.")
  • Emmy The Great - First Love [YouTube]
  • Franz Ferdinand - Dream Again
  • Mitchell Museum - Take The Tongue Out [Myspace] (Another Scottish band, and one whose Stephen Drozd-meets-Spencer Krug-meets-Avey Tare fare we should have written about more than we have)
  • Napoleon IIIrd - This Haircut Generation [only previewed, damn you, on Myspace]
  • The Phantom Band - Folksong Oblivion [mp3 from The Yellow Stereo] (From an outstanding album we'll be writing about in fuller detail later in the week)
  • The Second Hand Marching Band - A Dance To Half Death [Myspace]
  • Shirley Lee - The Smack Of Pavement In Your Face [Myspace] (The singer from Spearmint goes 'solo', as in it's got the rest of the band on backing but it's more personal in outlook)
  • Sky Larkin - Beeline [YouTube]
  • The Spinto Band - Vivian Don't
  • Sufjan Stevens - You Are The Blood (Sufjan's mad ten minute electro-folk-ballad contribution to 4AD/Red Hot's AIDS fundraising album of all the North American talents Dark Was The Night)
  • Swanton Bombs - Shock [Myspace]
  • Teitur - Catherine The Waitress [Myspace]
  • Those Dancing Days - Those Dancing Days [YouTube]
  • The Walkmen - In The New Year [YouTube]
  • The Voluntary Butler Scheme - Multiplayer [YouTube]

    Incidentally, what do you think of our new The Music That Made... series? We've had no comments about it yet, which suggests a certain coolness. To which we say stuff you, because this week apart from one day it's nothing but The Music That Made...s. Find out the hotly tipped new band whose singer kicks back with some Tuvan folk, the singer-songwriter who yearns for 2 Unlimited and the maker of one of our favourite debut albums of the STN era's Dire Straits upbringing.

    Recommended reading for the week is Pagan Wanderer Lu's new blog, including: what to talk about at the hairdressers, the vitaminic properties of sunshine and officially choreographed Animal Collective dance moves. His new album Fight My Battles For Me is out in March and is currently available to preorder from his special shop. When we gather together the money and ensure Brainlove aren't going to email us it all an hour after we put in the pre-order, we'll be in the mailout queue.
  • Friday, January 30, 2009

    Discourse 2000 #2

    NOMINATED BY: TJ Worthington, auteur of Out On Blue Six, part of the Talk About The Passion collective, regular TV Cream contributor and hundreds of other outlets besides

    While it may also have given rise to hordes of mental Wicker Man fans jumping over a charred bit of wood singing "we will fix it, we will me-end it", the slow but steadily-building interest in 'acid folk' of recent years - helped in no small part by genre champion Mark Radcliffe's sideways move to Radio 2 - has brought many musical benefits. Not just in the modern day artists it's helped to bring to a wider audience, but also the rediscovery of overlooked gems from the past - often to the surprise of the artists themselves - including the works of Vashti Bunyan, Shelagh McDonald, Simon Finn, and the long-forgotten characters found on this decidedly offbeat compilation.

    Fuzzy Felt Folk was a joint venture between Jonny Trunk, the mastermind behind cult reissue label Trunk Records, and Martin Green, the influential DJ whose deleriously obscure archive discoveries have been making up superb compilations since the influential The Sound Gallery back in 1995. Described as music with a "childish, sweet sound but at the same time an old-fashioned, spooky edge", the typically eclectic tracklisting sits genuine hardcore folkies like Orriel Smith alongside session musicians chopping out sprightly ditties for use in schoolroom 'Music And Movement' sessions, and a couple of obscure soundtrack rarities. Some of it, like Barbara Moore's frantically jazzy 'The Elf' and 'Merry Ocarina', the aptly named and much-sought after music from Vision On's surreal interludes with a girl and her tortoise, is upbeat and infectious, but most of it is subdued and haunting, most disconcertingly the three inexplicably chilling readings of traditional songs by a tambourine-backed Christopher Casson.

    In his liner notes, Jonny Trunk mused from bitter experience that the album would probably only sell enough "for a round of toast or a bus ride to the seaside"; but for once, the contents of a wilfully uncommercial compilation managed to get through to its intended audience and beyond, selling so well that it eventually ended up on the display racks of several high street music stores. "Fuzzy Felt Folk" can sit as comfortably next to Eliza Carthy and Emmy The Great as it can to those Tudor Lodge and Mellow Candle reissues, and is proof positive that old music can still be 'new' in the right context.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    STN ahead of the curve shock

    A quick note of reminder now it's all popular and celebrities use it: if you're not already keenly attracted to our Twitter feed, for god's sake follow us why don't you for exclusive links, blog news and loose leaf ponderings. Where else would you find out about Neil Hannon's cricket concept side project?

    Apart from in this link.

    Discourse 2000 #1

    A reminder, or introduction: this is the feature in which we're attempting to put together an alternate library of this decade's lower level album triumphs according to a range of guest bloggers. Feel free to offer your services nominating and writing about a record as this feature will be running nearly all year - all the contributory details are here. Oh, and thanks to Thomas for suggesting the name. You should see some of those we came up with ourselves.

    NOMINATED BY: Joe Skrebels of Music From A Green Window

    In an age where hip-hop stars are regularly lambasted for inciting violence, misogyny and homophobia, and where a lot of the time this is true, it could be all too easy to slip into a jaded view of the whole genre. But by dismissing it out of hand, a whole world of musical pioneering could be missed - for every Ludacris there's a Mos Def, for every G-Unit there's a De La Soul. Hip-Hop can have something to say, and it can be as meaningful as any lyric sung by some misanthropic indie singer.

    From a British perspective, the album that has best done this in recent memory is Angles by Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip. A producer and a poet from Essex weren't the most likely candidates to become the saviours of intelligent hip-hop, but with Scroobius Pip's wit and biting social commentary backed up by Dan le Sac's 8-bit bleeps and beats, it's hard to disagree. Angles lives up to its name by not approaching the album's subjects in a one-dimensional way, every song is looking at its subject from a new perspective. The eponymous song is the most obvious, looking at a tragic situation from the views of several different people, A Letter From God To Man is a an inverse prayer, whilst Look For The Woman looks at unrequited love from the other side.

    It could be easy to look at this album from a purely lyrical standpoint, but Le Sac's understated backings are just as important, often creating an almost stark atmosphere, amplifying the lyrical content, or by sampling Dizzee Rascal in a satire of current hip-hop trends, or Radiohead just because it sounds amazing.

    "Angles" proves that hip-hop can be funny or heart-rendingly sad, it proves that it can tell us something about society, whether its the effects of self-harm or the importance of Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon movies, and most of all, it proves that hip-hop itself is important. I'll leave you with Scroobius' own words, as they sum it up far better than I can.

    "I'm just trying to be a positive role model for ya
    Cause in my town I'm blessed with many role models
    So many that sometimes the mind just boggles
    See KRS is my teacher
    Slick Rick's my ruler
    Chuck D's my preach'
    I'm just a preschooler
    I've still got growing to do though
    I ain't trying to fool ya
    But compared to all the other kids in my class
    I'm much taller"

    Le Sac vs Pip Myspace

    A Letter From God To Man

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    Do you want to?

    Franz Ferdinand occupy a curious position in music at the moment, namely that they're blamed for the raft of copycats and watering down wastrels that have followed in their sharp pressed, clean guitar attack footsteps. Nobody blames the Beatles for Freddie and the Dreamers; the Stone Roses were not chased out of town by folk waving placards of Northside, yet Tonight has been greeted with something of a resigned air. Maybe it's just bad timing what with the overriding press line currently being "landfill indie is dead, indie guitars are out, bring on a phalanx of girls with synths who've heard When Doves Cry/Slow/Only You", but given it was Franz who gave this stuff, along with a truckload of aphorisms and a whole new attitude that unlike many of their disciples successfully married the worlds of outsider acceptance and commercial potential, to the world. OK, reintroduced it technically. All the same, the air of Tonight shies away from the sound of You Could Have It So Much Better, which in retrospect while certainly not a bad album - more prone to filler and neutral gear than the still fine if much thinner than you remember it being debut but with its share of likeable barnstormers, Do You Want To not included - was broadly the same as said debut but toughened up not so much for the clubs as for the ampthitheatres. It's how far away it shies that's the issue.

    Famously, Alex Kapranos wanted to make girls dance. That he still tries to do. He's always given the impression that Franz Ferdinand wouldn't specifically be anchored to this jerky punk-funk/post-punk thing, though, and while we're not going to go through the attempted production and style permutations as every piece you read about this album spends most of its length dredging back through it all you'd expect the band to subtly shift their dynamic into new shapes and areas. We're not sure the opener and single quite manages that, Ulysses essentially just a not too far from Kaiser Chiefs big stomping radio chorus attached to this:

    And another thing - while we're eschewing what the album nearly was, it's worth reminding ourselves that Ulysses was the title of the song visitors to a London art gallery in late 2007 were invited to add their own interpretation of the drum track to. So much for the artsiness of artifact.

    As for the rest of it... well, after Ulysses comes Turn It On, mooted as far back as the gigs introducing songs that ended up on You Could Have It So Much Better as the big synth track but, well, a big glam production, a hint of whirring synth, an attempt to eke out a Stooges riff at the end. Then No You Girls boasts a cocksure strut, a stalking bassline and a coy lyric before a huge repetitive chorus. Common to both, the gnawing feeling we've done all this in this band's company. Send Him Away tries at raga-like bouncing rhythm and then forgets to do anything with it so chooses to lapse back into what we're now calling That Chorus Style. Already there's no impression they've constantly tried to challenge themselves beyond getting some more analogue keyboards in just when we wanted them to redefine what Franz Ferdinand at heart are, like a self-appointed art school dandy band is supposed to. The art-pop for dancing girls thing done, this third album coming at a time when they need to prove themselves in the face of dwindling critical and commercial potential. Instead, more off-beats, more major key choruses, more lyrics about lust and nightclubs, more filler, more moments that should impress more than they do. It's like they didn't get the message about how pop isn't a dirty phrase any more. Why does Bite Hard sound so much like it's going to really take off and take the floor with it when it's clear it's going to lapse back into rote arch four to the floor, and sure enough it does?

    There are better moments. What She Came From has the four-four beat and That Chorus but is slinkier, smarter in its lyrics because Kapranos isn't trying to rise above everyone else and just goes for the growling jugular, before even the band get bored after three minutes and embark on just racing each other to collapse at the finish. Live Alone is literally something from the first album we can't immediately place sped up and given a glitterball to hold above themselves. Finally, three tracks from the end, the band break out of their self-imposed box. The first is the least likely. Lucid Dreams sub-B-side quality in its initial version released quietly to radio last year, has had a radical makeover, much darker, backed by synth squelches and shorn of any desire to be sung along to with fists aloft by beery blokes at Reading. Then, two verses in, it turns into its own remix, full of dark bass plunges amid fragments of vocals and shards of guitar solo, then does away with everything that came before and heads deep into industrial house hell. Dream Again's pretty spacewalk burbles and tinkles are Brian Eno-like, either ambient-wise or in the slower moments of his indispensible first four solo albums, in its balladic construction, before Katherine Kiss Me is a pretty, personalised ballad reminiscent of nobody so much as James Yorkston.

    And that just shows the rest up - even if it doesn't all have to be so outre, by this stage you feel that given where they came from they should be more comprehensively altering perceptions through textures and indoctrinating styles with further ideas. Until the last quarter, Tonight is an album that doesn't have the courage of its convictions so retreats back to where it feel safest, to what FM rock radio now constitutes in Britain. Franz Ferdinand, we thought you were far better than this.

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    You could serve it so much better

    The day of release of a new Franz Ferdinand album, even now their stock has been brought low by imitators, is something worth getting excited about in advance. Should we? Dunno, haven't heard Tonight yet - we'll tell you what we think in a couple of days - but we tell you what we can offer as an assuagation.

    In September 2005, while on a world tour promoting their last album, Alex Kapranos was invited by the Guardian to write a column about what he ate while on the road. It's better than it sounds, "a travel diary as excuse to write about food" and purposefully not the day to day stuff, documenting the changes in culture and what it's felt fair to serve the traveller, with a light scene setting touch. The columns were eventually collected into one volume, Sound Bites: Eating On Tour With Franz Ferdinand, which was Radio 4 Book Of The Week in December 2006 and repeated last year on BBC7, Kapranos reading edited extracts from his own work. What a shame those readings are now confined to the archives, never to be properly heard aga...oh, wait.

    Warning: You'd better like the first thirty seconds of Eleanor Put Your Boots On.

    Part one: a languid essaying of the word 'booze', a documentation of a cross-gendered cowboy outside an Austin Tex-Mex, Paul Thompson's issues with oysters, crab death.

    Part two: the guilt of eating cake at T In The Park, the art of staring on the Pigalle, pigeon death, Italian food discovery, Christmas in a Bavarian market.

    Part three: the desire from afar for British curry, food left in the home fridge for two and a half years, the joy of South Shields saveloy dip and Christmas home bombing.

    Part four: baked bread in Australia, curious vegetables and serving rites in Japan, annoying a hotel manager in Singapore.

    Part five: Alex recalls the icing on his fifth birthday cake, reveals his bandmates' curious restaurant foibles, the fast food/Biblical quotation crossover and has a moment of realisation about tourism and a moment of explanation about playing live.

    Sunday, January 25, 2009

    Fly off the wall

    Here's an untapped resource for us, The Fly In The Courtyard, where the website of the titular noted free publication gets its favourite new bands to pop round with some instruments and little or no amplification - including on vocals, which can be a little trying at times, but you'll live - and then puts them on its site for all to wonder at. So obviously here's some favourites of ours in reduced audio circumstances. Who did you think we'd start with?

    New song too. And you'd be surprised how well Salt, Pepper & Spinderella works acoustically, especially if you get David Roy from Dananananaykroyd to add to the guitar attack.

    His day job we'll come back to in a second, as first we've got the band JoFo are supporting on a European tour next month, Sky Larkin. Eventually they get started with album high spot (of many, obviously) Matador, Katie atop an old BMW. That live music/vintage cars crossover draws nearer.

    And a brand new song not on the album or as far as we know any B-sides, Fire Fighter. Rock that accordion, Doug.

    So you'd wonder how the all-action live style of Dananananaykroyd would translate to a more parkour-friendly area, and you'd be right to be intrigued and not a little scared. Calum and John do their best screaming work on next single Black Wax against two acoustic guitars while Laura and Paul are reduced to tambourine and clapping duties, the multi-level approach on the fire escape a fine use of the space available given the number of participants. Uniquely for the situation, they also introduce an element of pyrotechnics.

    Now, the rest aren't on the Fly's YouTube channel and the embedding facility for these videos is fucked to buggery, and you can quote us on that. Instead, linkage alone for similar videos of some of the other people we've been championing over the last couple of months, so you can deal with their fiddly player yourselves:

    Rose Elinor Dougall stays well away from health and safety equipment up the self same fire escape for some sophisti-pop in the round aided by her band the Distractions (not the Factory Records pop-post-punk outfit or comedian Mitch Benn's backing duo), all nearly outshone by the bobble on the drummer's hat.

    Everything Everything: perfectly good name, if one largely unGooglable without quotation marks, perfectly awkward sound. Why they're in an ice cream van... well, maybe you can come up with some bizarre and imaginative reason.

    Eugene McGuinness - see, with one person it's easy enough, stick him in the garage, give him a chair and let him work his slanted singer-songwriterly magic.

    The Voluntary Butler Scheme. When we saw Rob Jones he was doing everything from drums to guitar to keys to kazoo himself with the aid of judicious loop pedallage, but such witchcraft wouldn't do so he's brought in Damo Waters, whose own one man band Muddy Suzuki we posted about a week and a half ago, and Jon Palmer who also trades as Awesome Wells, who here he's carefully attempted to hide.

    Saturday, January 24, 2009

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Alan MX - Warpsichord [Myspace]
  • An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump - Lights Out [Myspace]
  • Andrew Bird - Effigy [Myspace]
  • Animal Collective - Brother Sport
  • Brakes - Hey Hey [YouTube]
  • Cats On Fire - Horoscope [Myspace]
  • Dananananaykroyd - Black Wax [Myspace]
  • Emmy The Great - First Love [YouTube]
  • Eugene McGuinness - Fonz [YouTube]
  • J Tillman - James Blues [Myspace] The drummer from Fleet Foxes releases his fourth solo album, Vacilando Territory Blues. It sounds like a solo, more intimate, more Nick Drake-ified Fleet Foxes)
  • Pulled Apart By Horses - I Punched A Lion In The Throat [live YouTube]
  • Rogues - Not So Pretty [Myspace]
  • The Second Hand Marching Band - Lies [Myspace]
  • Silver Gospel Runners - Would You Settle For Less [Myspace] (You like Tigermilk and The Boy With The Arab Strap, yeah?)
  • Sky Larkin - Beeline [YouTube]
  • The Sound Of The Ladies - Clouds At The Top Of The Sky [Myspace] (Or download it from here. In some sort of cosmic japery, it turns out since we decided to feature Martin Austwick who is acoustic pained storyteller The Sound Of The Ladies here that he's done some filming of others round his house and one of those is Superman Revenge Squad - trailer here)
  • Swanton Bombs - Vanishing Point [Myspace]
  • Telepathe - Can't Stand It [streaming on Placebos] (What's the opposite of a frontloaded album? For half of its life it's basically Little Boots with an extra synth, Valley Girl accents and all the charm siphoned off, then round about track five it suddenly becomes a really fascinating wash of elusive droney analogue wash and sweet harmonies. Curse you, Sitek, you win this time.)
  • Those Dancing Days - Those Dancing Days [YouTube] (It's coming back out as a single in a month's time. Dunno why.)
  • TV On The Radio - Dancing Choose [YouTube]
  • Friday, January 23, 2009

    The Music That Made... Brakes

    One of our favourite and most consistently great bands through the nearly four year existence of STN, Brighton country-punk supergroup of sorts Brakes are currently warming up for their third album, Touchdown, released on 20th April through new label FatCat (Frightened Rabbit, Twilight Sad, Múm). Ahead of its first single singer/guitarist Eamon Hamilton shared his thoughts:

    First single bought: The Ghostbusters theme tune by Ray Parker Junior
    First album bought: Never Mind The Bollocks by Sex Pistols
    First gig voluntarily attended: Pixies at Gloucester Leisure Centre, on their Doolittle tour
    The record that most made you want to get into music: Its a flip between Psychocandy by Jesus and Mary Chain and 20 Classic Cuts by Little Richard (ACE Records)
    The three headliners at a festival you were curating: Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Louis CK, Creedence Clearwater Revival
    A song not enough people know about but everyone should hear: Seeds Of The Pine by Martha Scanlan
    A song you'd play to get people dancing: Mickey's Monkey by The Miracles
    The last great thing you heard: Underwater Moonlight by The Soft Boys
    Your key non-musical influences: Stroud, Brighton, Brooklyn. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee. My wife Koren Zailckas. Old Town Bar in New York, the Hand In Hand pub in Brighton and the Red Lion pub in Chalford, near Stroud. Backgammon.,, GTA 1-4.
    Your favourite new artist: Taylor Swift

    The band begin a tour on Wednesday calling at London, Guildford, Manchester, Cardiff, Exeter, Sheffield and Cambridge. See their website for further details and wonder if they still see fit to do Cheney. New single Hey Hey is released 16th February; it sounds like this.

    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    We're wondering now

    Question: why, on iTunes, and Spotify to name three, if you search for Gangsters by the Specials does it come up with a completely different version which is longer and features someone who isn't Terry Hall on vocals, and where on earth does that version originate? (NB. We know a lot of sources have the proper version on under the then proper band name Special AKA, we're just curious)

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    The Music That Made... Swanton Bombs

    Great new artists don't just appear fully formed in time for the January editions of the monthlies, sometimes they whack you round the back of the head with greatness in their own time. Although we mentioned them back in October, the East London/Essex duo Swanton Bombs really came into fruition with the newly released Mammoth Skull EP (buy from Norman Records if you're quick, there's only 500, but they've got a CD of older songs free), four tracks of subtle wonder spanning from fractured angular post-post-punk to charging, twisted piano pop, sometimes at the same time. It's a long time since a debut four-tracker has come out of the blue with such promise attached, so we decided to get in ahead of the curve and ask Dominic McGuinness and Brendan Heaney what's floated their boats. Which one these answers covers... well, that's for you to guess, because they didn't say. And going on the first answer, that's just as well.

    First single bought: Eiffel 65 - I'm Blue
    First album bought: The Very Best Of Chuck Berry
    First gig voluntarily attended: Toploader at the Brixton Academy
    The record that most made you want to get into music: The Strokes - Is This It
    A song you'd play to get people dancing: Big Boi - Ghetto Musick
    The last great thing you heard: I'd rather have a full frontal labotomy than a full bottle in front of me
    Your favourite new artist: Video Nasties

    Swanton Bombs are on tour with Threatmantics and the aforementioned Video Nasties across the land for the rest of this month - check their Myspace (link up there) for details.

    Now then

    To conclude our extended qualifications on the ability of the Now! series to capture a moment no matter what its quality, we had a look at the compilations from as near as possible to its fifth, tenth and fifteenth anniversaries. Not the twentieth, as even by our 00s-cauterising standards 2003 is too recent to properly make something out of in retro nostalgia terms and even then the attraction of Joe Budden and D-Side palls.

    Fifth anniversary

    The last Now! number one before compilations were harvested off to their own chart and there's a curious duality going on. On the one hand, in those Levi's/inception of Q times there's a rush of elder statesmen and stateswomen with Womack & Womack, UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, Robert Palmer, Phil Collins, Art of Noise featuring Tom Jones, Bryan Ferry and the summarily advert-aided Hollies on Disc 1 alone, plus 38 year old Bobby McFerrin standing out like a sore thumb before Trevor, Anne and JJ met Tom. And then disc two kicks off with Chubby Checker! And there's the other part, as all this new music from American youths and British DJs starts flocking into the mainstream too, as the track here is the Fat Boys' The Twist reworking, and if that's understandably not what you were strictly after the whole thing opens with the Coldcut-produced The Only Way Is Up and showcases Bomb The Bass, Wee Papa Girl Rappers, Salt n Pepa and, er, Milli Vanilli, plus a none more Vicks-friendly segue of Yello, Inner City, D-Mob and Beatmasters. Changes are afoot which not even a slew of AOR - the Christians' version of Harvest For The World, Hue & Cry, Breathe's ever dreary Hands To Heaven, Level 42, T'Pau - can stop. The compilers even get clever towards the end, following Transvision Vamp's snottiness by committee I Want Your Love with the now slimmed down Duran Duran's explosion in a Fairlight factory I Don't Want Your Love followed by the Human League's not particularly dignified Love Is All That Matters, which didn't even make the top 40. And it all closes with Martha's Harbour, to throw a bone to just about everyone. Verdict: there's a revolution happening, but we'll just idle away over here with our CDs and basic rediscoveries while you work it all out.

    Tenth anniversary

    Actually, things evidently didn't get better that quickly, as five years on Now is starting with UB40's version of (I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You, followed by the Pet Shop Boys' version of Go West, followed by Frankie Goes To Hollywood's actual Relax (a best of was out, see). And from then it's into... well, when we covered the 1992 Christmas chart last month we noted the preponderance of novelties and covers, as if there was a recession on or something, and 1993 was clearly the year of Eurobeat. Stakka Bo is a shot across the bows, but when Disc 2 opens with Cappella, Haddaway, 2 Unlimited, Culture Beat and last vestige of rave The Goodmen, with Urban Cookie Collective, Captain Hollywood Project and 80s jazz vocalist chancing her arm Juliet Roberts following soon behind, you realise this isn't really a period in post-rave dance music's evolution, Open Up or no Open Up, that many would be proud of, although you know as well as we do that come the mid to late 2010s scores of self-consciously 'wacky' 21 year olds will be telling the BBC entertainment section that "I discovered all that early 90s music in my parents' attic, I really think it was inventive, happy music and it's not given the credit it deserves..." (Mind you, the 80s revival hasn't bothered with Sade/Matt Bianco/Working week jazz-pop, so there's hope yet) The presence of SWV and Eternal suggests the R&B girls are about to arrive, and there's some Brits with guitars attempting to make the leap in the form of the Levellers, James and, good lord, Radiohead's Creep - shame this isn't number 25, we'd have had to consider Kingmaker - but in a period when pop hadn't yet seen the potential in proper boy bands and guitars weren't being let back in the club yet it seems full of passing fads like Chaka Demus & Pliers (ah, the summer of reggae, if that's what you really must call it), the Spin Doctors (the 90s' least fondly remembered hitmakers?) and the Shola Ama of 1993, Lena Fiagbe. Plus, the whole month of release saw I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) at number one, and if that's not indicative of confused times we don't know what is.

    Fifteenth anniversary

    So somewhere along the way marketing arrived, and with CD:UK having just started the dancers and stage school kids are appearing, Billie and 911 opening disc two. Yet extraordinary how potent cheap music is, and by 1998 dance music was pretty cheap. And successful, which is why we have a whole host of chancers, from T-Spoon's easy column inches Sex On The Beach to Deetah to Touch And Go (Would You...?, a favourite of the people who put music behind home improvement shows to this day), plus Sash! - 39th in the 2008 album sales list, his best of, nearly selling 300,000 copies - and The Tamperer's non-chimney related hit If You Buy This Record Your Life Will Be Better. Here Gangster Trippin' and Music Sounds Better With You seem like the 1812 Overture. Plenty of R&B influenced stuff too, UB40 are back, and a good period for the sort of light radio pop of the type that flits by the listener without their hardly noticing. Jennifer Paige was never going to be more than a one hit wonder, the Meredith Brooks of that year, and Alisha's Attic always seem to be coming and going but it's alarming how little Lutricia McNeal made an impact despite three top ten singles, rising without trace and disappearing quietly. Space probably don't even remember covering We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, but here it is. The overwhelming thought is it all seems very sandpapered off and acceptable, not necessarily a bad thing in itself but it was all settling for "will this do, Robbie our liege?" a little.

    And Mel B and Missy Elliott's I Want You Back is, B's shot at gossamer soul singing aside, much better than you remember it.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Brand new Second Hand

    See, this is why we keep blathering on and doing this thing to death - because we know lurking somewhere out there is the next great, or at least potentially great, new band.

    Presenting, then, The Second Hand Marching Band.

    You're intrigued already, we can tell. Based in Glasgow and formed in December 2007 to "play songs with many instruments that could be danced to" they number between 16 and 22, but don't go thinking this is mere Polyphonic Spree gimmickry. Including members of many other bands, including Dananananaykroyd (drummer Paul Carlin), Eagleowl, Q Without U, The Just Joans and The Occasional Flickers (and, it suggests here, soon ex-Teenage Fanclub/Mogwai drummer Brendan O'Hare), their number includes mandolinists, ukeleleists, glockenspiel (two!), accordion, flute, clarinet, melodica and a three piece internal brass section, we're dealing with sprawling folk of the Sufjan/Beirut end at heart, but with a cheerfully ramshackle chorality pitched somewhere between revivalist joy and huddling together for warmth and safety and an admitted post-rock influence in the way the layers of instruments slowly build and crescendo. You'd imagine they're something special live, although they're only playing across Scotland at the moment. Fair enough, as despite the whole Balkan/Americana reference points it is ultimately a very Scottish sounding thing. They released a limited edition EP, A Dance To Half Death, last week, available from their Myspace and through Chaffinch Records. Watch them, because if we're any judge - pause for readers to make faces and odd noises behind hands - they're building up to something very interesting. Lostmusic has an mp3 up. So do we.

    The Second Hand Marching Band - We Walk In The Room (via Sendspace while our server plays silly buggers)

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    The Music That Made... Superman Revenge Squad

    Superman Revenge Squad is Ben Parker of Croydon, who with only an acoustic guitar to hand and a sharp enquiring mind and fast tongue in his head made one of our favourite albums of 2008, This Is My Own Personal Way Of Dealing With It All, which we impetuously left out of our end of year countdown as you can only buy it from him at gigs or from his Myspace, which evidently you should. (Although we did nominate and write about it for The Line Of Best Fit's Under The Radar list) With his litany of pop cultural lyrical touchstones and our love of his work we figured he'd be good value for our questions, and so it proved. "I fear they might make people question my musical history, and that I might have waffled on a bit" he forewarned us.

    First single bought: Hmmm. Well, it was probably something by Iron Maiden, on cassette single in the bargain bin in Woolworths I think – possibly a song called Holy Smoke. The cardboard box it came in was quite battered if I remember rightly. I wasn’t into music at all really up until about the age of thirteen, and then suddenly I was stupidly obsessed with it. And I went into a big heavy metal phase and spent all of my time reading heavy metal magazines, playing the guitar and not doing any homework. I still have a soft spot for Iron Maiden – they get a few mentions on the songs I’ve written, along with other people I’ve really liked in the past, like Morrissey and the Smashing Pumpkins. If it sounds like I’m taking the piss I am doing it fondly. Although not, perhaps, in the case of Smashing Pumpkins, but that's a whole other story.
    First album bought: I got Thriller by Michael Jackson when I was at the primary school. Maybe because I liked the video for Thriller. Certainly not because of the duet he does with Paul McCartney on it!
    First gig voluntarily attended: Maybe a little embarrassingly, it was the Little Angels. I quite liked them. It was, honestly, the loudest gig I’ve ever been to – my ears were ringing for days – although I suppose they weren’t as used to that kind of noise in those days.
    The record that most made you want to get into music: As soon as I started listening to music I wanted to get a guitar, and I started writing songs - I've got books and books of lyrics (really bad lyrics!). I remember liking Loco Live, a live album by the Ramones, quite a lot because I could play it fairly easily – it didn’t have fiddly guitar bits in - and it was quite exciting at the time. Other notable things I got were 1991 The Year Punk Broke – the video with Sonic Youth and a load of other good people on it and reading the Morrissey and Marr book (The Severed Alliance), because it made me realise that you could sing music and be a bit awkward!
    The three headliners at a festival you were curating: If I had to pick today it would possibly Will Oldham and Alasdair Roberts and Herman Dune (with Andre back in the band!). I love all of them. But if I could (slightly geekily) populate it with people and bands from the past if would be Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Bob Marley and the Wailers (from about 1972) and Black Sabbath (from about 1974 or so).
    A song not enough people know about but everyone should hear: There’s a song called This Time Around by a band called S.O.U.L that I love. It’s on some Northern Soul compilation I’ve got and it has the best intro to a song ever. According to Last. fm I’m the only person that has ever loved the song, of the 42 listeners that it has had. So I’m gonna pick that.
    A song you'd play to get people dancing: I don’t really do dancing generally, but I remember when a friend of mine was Djing a night of mainly Aphex Twin type stuff and he slipped Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher on and it was great. I’d do that maybe, amongst a load of truly miserable songs that no-one could dance to.
    The last great thing you heard: I played with Paul Hawkins last week, and he’s got a new song called something like I’ll Take Good Care Of You and it’s brilliant.
    Your key non-musical influences: Dunno really – Film makers I like are the obvious ones: Mike Leigh and David Lynch and the Coen Brothers. Books I love are: Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, Jack Maggs by Peter Carey. I read quite a bit, different things, but those are faves.
    Your favourite new artist: Jack Mountain. Definitely. He recorded three albums last year and gave them out at gigs for free and they are great. For good examples check out Saturday Fuck Off from Escape From The Planet Of Rockers or My Heart's An Anchor from Battle For The Planet Of Rockers – they are free to download I think.

    Superman Revenge Squad is playing assorted dates around the country; if you're in or near Cardiff, Clwb Ifor Bach on 27th February with Gindrinker and the aforementioned Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences looks like a three line whip for attendance to us. This is what he sounds like - Idiot Food...

    ...and Kevin Rowland.

    Sunday, January 18, 2009

    Bird watching

    Merriweather Post Pavilion. Well, it's just as good as everyone says, really. What they've worked out, possibly with the aid of Panda Bear's Person Pitch album, is how not just to be rhythmic campire folkies or glitchy psychedelics or Beach Boys indebted heavenly harmonic shamen or post-house acoustic beatmakers but to find a happy medium between them all while allowing the songs to shine. Gorgeous melodies come more to the fore than ever before and the temptation they've previously succumbed to to bury any hint of pop aesthetics in electronic trickery or pull it apart methodically is buried. It's got groove, it's got meaning. More than anything, it's got a soul, and with this level of careful layering, thumping club bass versus freak folk and odd talismanic momentum moments that's a special thing to pull off.

    But you know all that, because especially now you don't need to read another bedroom bound blogger drone on about how special it all sounds. So let's talk about another album, one that won't grab the limelight in every review; Noble Beast by Andrew Bird, released 2nd February.

    At this distance it's looking like it's M Ward's turn in 2009 to get an attempted big push out of the alt-Americana rounds and into the mainstream's line of fire, following the She & Him sleeper hit with an album in Hold Time that seems set to take his sound to colossal extremes. Ward being big is of course no bad thing, even if hindsight suggests Post-War wasn't really the top ten album of the year we acclaimed it as at the time, but it does mean some fellow travellers in timeline and genre terms have to wait their turn once again. Andrew Bird is foremost among these, a prolific violin-wielding/sawing/plucking whistle-friendly (23 seconds it takes that to kick in here) singer-songwriter and one time conservatory training rebel who often comes across as a more linear Final Fantasy. Perhaps for that reason we'd never quite warmed to him before now, but Noble Beast sees him take his arrangements and strip them back to something more light and direct, almost approachable for mainstream use. Almost, of course, because his lilting voice expresses resonantly worded tales layered in detail and cryptic reference points while remaining on nodding terms with the pastoral oddness of freak folk that once took him as their own envoy to the wider world. It's a warm sounding album, layered in bells and handclaps around his delicately complex violin backing, self-created percussive loops and stabs at being the alt-Roger Whittaker, soothing if slightly reserved, laced with alt-country, Balkan folk, Spanish guitars and Shins-esque adult pop. It's a style that fits him well through careful amendments and one that seems purely his, easy to approach but never too comfortable and giving up new details and high points on further listens even for something so on face value sparsely produced. It's very smart stuff to make something so precise sound so soft and worth investigating.

    Saturday, January 17, 2009

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Alan MX - Warpsichord [Myspace] (Kicking off this week with the great white hope for quite some time now of Smalltown America, the label that considered the blogger poll results worthy of website front page reportage; from Basingstoke, a poetic bedroom electropop auteur in the Napoleon IIIrd vein. He calls it "intimate exhibitionism", we call it new pop's own IDM)
  • Animal Collective - Brother Sport
  • Banjo Or Freakout - Mr No [Myspace] (Another Italian! Alessio Natalizia actually now lives in London and has made a minor online splash with his minimal covers (Archangel, Someone Great, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa) but his own material, a mix of shoegazey noise, glitch beats and Caribou-ish filtered dreampop, is strong enough)
  • Blue Roses - Does Anyone Love Me Now [Myspace] (One of the other problems we have with this orthodoxy of 2009 The Year Of The Female Synthy Singer-Songwriters is that, in the same way a lot of female singer-songwriters suddenly got tarred with the New Kate Nash brush regardless of when they'd actually started to make their move or how alike they were - George Pringle was dubbed a New Nash by Q! - when Foundations was a hit, there's quite a few really interesting women about at the moment, Laura Groves resolutely among them, who through no fault of their own bar being less commercially aware are likely to be now seen in the shadow of Welch/Hesketh/Brown)
  • Bon Iver - Blood Bank [live YouTube]
  • Cats On Fire - Horoscope [Myspace]
  • Darren Hayman - Amy And Rachel [mp3 from Hayman's site] (Pram Town, out on the 26th, is Hayman's semi-concept album about hope, escape and Harlow)
  • Emmy The Great - First Love [YouTube]
  • Fanfarlo - Harold T. Wilkins [YouTube]
  • Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses [Myspace]
  • Johnny Foreigner - DJs Get Doubts [Myspace]
  • M Ward - Hold Time [YouTube]
  • Pagan Wanderer Lu - The Bridge Of Sighs [Myspace] (Album in March, finally, called Fight My Battles For Me, featuring a track called Ten Cities Is Not A European Tour. Andy's also started a blog)
  • The Phantom Band - Folksong Oblivion [mp3 from 17 Seconds] (Forgot to mention last week that Chemikal Underground release album Checkmate Savage - produced by ex-Delgado Paul Savage, which goes to show that if you have no better ideas for your album title why not filch a studio injoke - on 26th January. They play an instrument made from metal shelf brackets and one of them calls themselves Richard The Turd. We... we think we'd best tread carefully around these)
  • Sky Larkin - Beeline [YouTube]
  • Speedmarket Avenue - Enlightened And Left Wing Indeed [Myspace] (Tremendous English-as-foreign-language title, isn't it?)
  • Teitur - Catherine the Waitress [Myspace] (A debut Sweep appearance for a Faroe Islands artist, not unreasonably; romantic but secretly gleeful maxi-pop not terribly well served by his press release)
  • TV On The Radio - Dancing Choose [YouTube]
  • The Voluntary Butler Scheme - Multiplayer [YouTube]
  • The XX - Blood Red Moon [Myspace]

    If you have Spotify, we've constructed a STN Select playlist - everything we could find from an album that appeared in our top 30s of the year plus some other singles and songs we've supported.
  • Friday, January 16, 2009

    Local interest

    A lot of you will know STN is Leicester based, and so we have to comment on the news that the (formerly Princess) Charlotte has gone into administration and could shut by the end of the month. The levels of irony inherent in the fact this has happened at a time when the local council are plunging millions into creating a "cultural quarter" are off the scale.

    Thing is, there's a lot more to say than can be funnelled into one blogger brainstorm. The venue itself... well, nobody ever said it was perfect. A renovation a few years back to knock the pub and back room into one left variable acoustics, a sound desk halfway down the room and a compromised general air, and the bar was almost celebrated for its lack of quality. But you feel that losing the Charlotte would be more than losing this grand old name, as Simon No Rock pointed out to us when we alerted him to the story one of the few remaining stalwarts of the '90s indie circuit. Much as the local community remain upbeat, even during STN's nearly four year lifespan the tour bookers' attentions have moved gradually away from Leicester in terms of the East Midlands stopover, and while they often went to Nottingham anyway with its greater range and sizes of venue Derby and Northampton have become preferred hosts for many mid-sized bands. If the Charlotte does go belly-up the sum total of touring bands playing the city in the first three months of 2009 will be Frightened Rabbit and Mumford & Sons (and the venue aren't even listing the latter yet); even with it there's only the Rumble Strips and the Wonky Pop tour with Dan Black headlining of note among the locals, tribute bands and weary chancers (no offence), even the odd club nights disappearing over the last year. You can't think that bookers and managers will look on the city any more favourably if the city's largest regular touring venue goes under. The two universities have cut right back on their live nights and the Y Theatre has seemingly stopped altogether, which leaves the popular Sumo (200 capacity), Firebug (100) and The Donkey (don't know, it's relatively new to regular live music so we've never been to a gig there, but we've been there when it's empty and we'd be surprised if it's more than about 100) plus The Shed (200) for all your revivalist punk needs and The Musician (140) which specialises in roots, folk, blues and acoustica. The Charlotte (400), as you'll have seen in the press for this announcement, has a mighty history (Husker Du in 1986? The Minutemen in 1985? (and both Mould and Watt later came back) In Leicester? It can't be comprehended) that, much as being the mecca for many a young band it is - and Leicester has been an up and coming city for new bands on several seperate occasions over the last couple of decades without ever really making the scene break, not even to follow Kasabian's solo venture into the chart wilderness - the present is struggling to live up to. We're not against the idea of just abandoning the thing and encouraging Andy to set up elsewhere, but especially in this climate you can't just click your fingers and produce an excellent live music room.

    And ultimately it's our fault. No, not us, honest, more a product of... well, we never told you about seeing Chris T-T and Thomas White's joint gig at the Musician last June, and that's because we made up one fifth of their total audience. We should have swapped addresses and agreed to meet up every anniversary. Quite often in the last few years at venues across the city we've marvelled at the lack of people showing up to see artists who while not massively obvious chart stars or bands with established fervent fanbases (The View were the last band to sell it out in advance, The Maccabees and The Cribs before then; not even Igly & Hartley or the Mystery Jets managed it) would easily sell out similar sized rooms elsewhere in the country - indeed we remember gawping at a GoodBooks Myspace blog about their selling out shows on the same tour where we'd been one of 18 at the Charlotte (the city's current post-rock titans Kyte were third on the bill) We remember the promises made in the last two or three years by a couple of young cut and thrusting promoters moving into the city and promising to bring the new exciting talent in, followed months later by a quiet exit and a growing debt. Andy Wright, who's run the place for more than twenty years, has partly blamed the tendency to go to bigger venues and some people on the inevitable Facebook groups have suggested the area needs an Academy-sized regular room and all will be well but who'd go that doesn't already? Not even the student crowd can be bothered most of the time, and the main De Montfort University building is literally across the road. It isn't seen to attract the crowds, and ultimately that's led to its downfall.

    But, ultimately, The Charlotte to outsiders is Leicester live music and for all its *ahem* foibles it's where we've spent more of our time out for the night than probably anywhere else and it'd be a local cultural disaster if it disappeared without hope or recompense.

    New sensations

    With the end of a weekly Weekender it at least means we don't have to desperately trawl every week for something half-decent to give undue prominence too. It also means we've been able to go through our backlog of Myspaces we've been advised to check out with a calmer ear and eye and only bring up the most promising artists you may not yet know but may well grow to love.

    You almost don't want to mention how Wintermitts make prominent use of glockenspiel and accordion just in case. Maybe it'd help if we said they're from Vancouver, because they do sound very Canadian with their tumbling instruments yet keeping wide open spaces in the music, ability to vary their style and a communal spirit which gives it that extra joy. Plus singer Lise Monique sings bilingually in French as well as English, which always impresses us dunces. They're a little Broken Social Scene, a little Delgados, something that reminds us of Cardiff's retro girl-pop heroes The School, handclaps, trumpets, melodicas... there's plenty to come past the recently released domestically album Heirloom, certainly.

    God knows what we were doing at the time - sitting in the tea tent wondering why nothing was happening on the outside stage, probably - but we didn't see The Good Natured at Indietracks last year. Perhaps it was the description that left us cold, being as it is 17 year old Sarah McIntosh of Newbury armed with merely an old Yamaha keyboard rescued from her grandmother's house. It seems to be de rigeur on the blogosphere to label her "Kate Nash meets the Postal Service", but balls to descriptive orthodoxy. Often her songs involve lo-fi homemade dance beats and yearning lyrics like The Research gone disco-pop, sometimes shimmering keyboards and quietly affecting while unaffected, effortless seeming vocals, accomplished at creating a subtle melodic pop hook that sticks. Sometimes it's tempting to review the age rather than the output and with age and gigging experience, at which she's putting in the hours, she has plenty of room to develop this sound into something fuller and more mature, but as long as she doesn't dump too much on top of the jewels therein she's in good stead. RIYL: Au Revoir Simone, Rose Elinor Dougall, the idea of a bedroom recorded Ladytron. Speaking of that sort of thing, Burning Hearts are a Finnish duo, the instrumental side also being drummer with the great Cats On Fire. Their warm female vocal over layered keyboards and indie-pop melodies with sophisticated arrangements is in the lineage of fellow Scandinavian adventurers such as Club 8 or Sambassadeur, with hints of Broadcast retro-futurist electronics.

    Favours For Sailors have been talked about as being in the JoFo/Danan mould - indeed they've played with the latter recently. Much as their biography references Pavement, Gang Of Four and Television they're not as much of an explosion in a pedals factory as that would suggest, being more in thrall to classic power-pop in the Raspberries/Badfinger/Rubinoos/Records/Cars lineage (which Malkmus has been known to dabble in in his solo career, of course). It's looking a little like we could have a revival on the underground of this kind of straight up three minute hook, power chord and harmony heavy, verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus arrangement on our hands in 2009, and F4S seem well placed with the odd nod to - witness the tricksy Kinsellacore guitars of Shy Times and the Modest Mouseish noodling round the perimeter of melody of Connoisseur Of Sunsets. If you wish the Wombats could have worked on the off-kilter pop alchemy from their early singles instead of chasing the commercial dollar, or want to witness a British version of the Apples In Stereo in development, step this way.

    Enough frivolity. Shield Your Eyes are a trio chiefly notable to date for featuring Toby Hayes, formerly singer with much-loved complicated post-hardcore heroes Meet Me In St Louis. On bass, mind. Noisy and awkward like a bastard, it's one more graduating from the schools of Don Caballero and Dischord Records, all cross-threaded shouting, math precision colliding with post-rock searching for its own thoroughly diced Higgs boson particle, shifting time sigs and stop-start turning on a sixpence, a trio featuring needling, acrobatic guitar, heavy driving bass and implausible drumming. Despite not featuring a synth, it also reminds us of Three Trapped Tigers' passive-aggressive avant-gardeisms. They're touring forever. With the rest of his time Hayes is Shoes And Socks Off, just him and an acoustic guitar, oblique observations and driven by a necessarily more compressed form of the energy that pulsed through his two other bands. An album, From The Muddy Waters Of Melitzer, came out at the end of the year on Big Scary Monsters, while Shield Your Eyes self-released a self-titled album last autumn.

    Also restricting himself to the basic blocks of voice and acoustic is Nicholas Stevenson, originally from Cambridge, now resident in Hereford. Iron & Wine and Elliott Smith are among his suggested influences which is a very good place to start, but we're also detecting Daniel Johnston fragility, Andrew Bird's obtuse storytelling and a certain gothic folkiness at times that could if developed, especially now he has a band around him, lead into very interesting places.

    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    2008: the leftovers

    The inevitable and somewhat frustrating thing about putting so much time and effort into ranking and researching a supposedly watertight albums of the year chart is the virtually the moment you finish work on it all manner of other candidates will suddenly force their charms on you. Before we can entirely put the musical year of 2008 to bed, then, we'd better do some sweeping up. If the credit crunch can be put on hold for just a little longer, may we commend buying the following to the house.

    While we knew about and loved the preceding single, we had no idea that Hello Saferide had actually got an album out until other bloggers voted it into 36th place in our end of year poll. So much for being authoritative. More Modern Short Stories From Hello Saferide is Swedish singer-songwriter Annika Norlin's second album under that pseudonym (her Swedish language project Säkert! released an album in 2007, which ended up winning two Swedish Grammys) As with her earlier Introducing... album, progressing from that album's voyage of youthful discoveries to a certain semi-maturity (if the very odd KT Tunstall echo) and a sex/parenting thematic, it's rooted very much in unpicking day to day activity for signs of humanity and companionship with the lightest of intimate touches, both lyrical and musical, even when the production takes it into wider areas. And yeah, they pretty much are modern short stories, or at least songs of experience and regret, imperfect realisations made musical. The opener compares people to songs with an acoustic backing and manages not to sound twee. Modern pop rarely has the insightful capacity to make you think; Norlin has it in spades.

    Hello Saferide - X Telling Me About The Loss Of Something Dear At Age 16

    Meanwhile, the video for Anna:

    And this is Norlin and Anna Järvinen of Granada (melodic popsters, apparently, although we'd like to see her sit in for Fred Talbot) covering With Every Heartbeat in Swedish with only an accordion, harmonica, chimes and metronome to hand:

    Silvery are the band who for a Christmas single covered You Give A Little Love, which you may know better as the closing song from Bugsy Malone. Far more than mere passing novelty interest, though, their album Thunderer And Excelsior landed in our laps right at the start of December and while it didn't make an immediate impact it had a way of creeping right up on us. A band who count Steve Lamacq as a big and well-placed fan, the main influences are fairly well trodden - early Sparks, music hall Blur, XTC - but you'll also hear the Cardiacs, Barrett-era pop shapes Pink Floyd, pre-Berlin Bowie, Madness, horror soundtracks and all manner of 'great live band, no sales' late Britpop oddities. Essentially, this is what the Kaiser Chiefs could have been if they hadn't started caring about sales, a whirling organ driven eccentricity that could have earned itself a certain following at any point in the last forty years.

    Silvery - Devil In The Detail

    Video for Horrors? Certainly.

    Cardiff's Spencer McGarry Season were in last year's Class Of '08 covermount, when we described them as "smart, very English power pop". Well, you know what we meant. Episode One, released in November locally but at some indeterminate point this month nationally on McGarry's own Businessman Records (they put out the borderline remarkable Gindrinker single a year ago), which comes with a extra features mini-site featuring a commentary, 'deleted scenes' extra tracks and a gallery. It's the first in a themed six album project and is as such "a rock record in the style of my favourite rock records". Those records being the Kinks and the Who's mod rabble rousing, XTC's redefinition of power pop to give it a brain and Talking Heads' outre white funk, a kind of amorphic, harmonic beat pop that slowly grows on you. There's a song called A Title Sparks Would Have Used. This isn't it, although it's an almost equally excellent title.

    Spencer McGarry Season - The Unfilmable Life And Life Of Terry Gilliam

    So finally, inexorably, what of Anathallo? Longtime readers will recall the moral panic we indulged in when our delivery of Canopy Glow got delayed and missed the top 50 of the year cutoff point. Well, it arrived a few days later, so stand down. While it seems the accusation often thrown at them of being merely a junior Sufjan seems to hold more weight than before, although Animal Collective's fireside folk moments are also suggested, the harmonies are stronger, the arrangements pared of Floating World's tendency to meander off into spaced-out formation while retaining their potential to surprise and like the winner of an album from The Acorn recently they've worked on the discipline required to pull in influences from various rhythmic sources into a dense, concise whole. Spin are giving away The River; they've made a video for Bells:

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    At selected branches of Martin

    Yeah. While other blogs and music writing outlets have been celebrating the fiftieth birthday of Motown, we're commemorating a chart pop compilation series. We're not that proud.

    Whenever the public at large are given cause to reflect on a piece of British pop culture ephemera from a shared growing up past – the end of Smash Hits or Top Of The Pops, say – the default setting is to ignore how it changed from our youth to that of today’s youth and lionise the way that it left such an indelible mark almost as if it’s always been like that. Even aware of all the arguments about the lack of social awareness and recognition of modern pop music in a post-TOTP world, we’re hesitant about joining the calls to bring it back because we’re recalling the party atmosphere of the Michael Hurll era rather than the public wake atmosphere of Andi Peters’, and we all know which would be easier for a cash strapped BBC to organise, especially as hiring Cotton and Yates for the Christmas shows smacked of returning to the scene of the crime.

    In the case of the Now That’s What I Call Music compilations and their twenty-fifth anniversary such selectivism would be impossible. It was always straight ahead crassly populist; a cherrypicking of the hits since the last volume then, the same now. Maybe one could get nostalgic about the blithely matter of fact sleevenotes for each entry, or when the artwork was based on more than stylised balloons, or perhaps even the pig (“Philip Oakeeee!”), but the content is presented the same now as it was then, ubercommerciality and chart quirks treated just the same, nothing more than a snapshot of the previous two or three months.

    And you can see that in the actual tracklisting for the reissued Now! 1, which does indeed have the pig/flower poster reproduced on the back. There's Total Eclipse of the Heart, Karma Chameleon and The Love Cats, but for the most part it's thoroughly disjointed. Why, it's almost as if Ashley Abram never envisaged 1980s nostalgia cheap thrills twenty five years in the future. So we meet Duran Duran heading over the crest of popularity's hill and others (Human League, Madness) comfortably heading down the other side, artists who really turned out to be not much up from brazen chancers - Kajagoogoo, Howard Jones, Men At Work - and tracks that nobody would put on even the most desperate 1983 compilation now, either for being too hackneyed (Peabo Bryson & Roberta Flack's Tonight I Celebrate My Love, Mike Oldfield's Moonlight Shadow, Genesis' That's All, a solo Limahl) or too of their time - The Rock Steady Crew, Double Dutch, the fabulously bizarre while simultaneously none more American 80s MOR sounding Kissing With Confidence by Will Powers, a song which includes co-writer credits for Nile Rodgers, Todd Rundgren and Steve Winwood and with Carly Simon on uncredited vocals. Plus Culture Club's then new Victims is appended to the end, the sleevenotes famously venturing it would be "certain No.1 by the time you have this LP" (it wasn't).

    In other ways, it's a fascinating document suited for far more than hen parties wearing deely boppers. Here's Tina Turner's first single back from the brink with BEF, who also turn up in their Heaven 17 day job with the simultaneously of its era and forward looking Temptation. Here's UB40's Red Red Wine, the single with which they took the leap from socially conscious heavy dub/roots experimentalists to wine bar soundtracking covers act. New Edition, an end in themselves but arguably the beginning of much more in the long run. Tracey Ullman, when you could still have a parallel career as TV comedian and semi-serious Stiff Records solo artist, tackling Kirsty Maccoll's unimpeachable They Don't Know, the sort of song no TV star with pop aspirations would be let anywhere near, or indeed desire to go towards, now. But ultimately this is what became of early 1980s pop as it shrugged off its desire to investigate and invent largely in favour of freeze-dried production and appearing on whichever variety show was coming from the Palladium on ITV at the time. Let this act as a signpost to stop, La Roux.

    Next week, we take the contemporary musical temperature of further Now! anniversaries. It's the pig one!

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    The Music That Made... Meursault

    You're right, this is our fourth attempt to get a regular feature involving band members together, but we're confident about this one. We'll be posing ten questions about music love old and new and in such we'll all hope to learn something about some of STN's favourite music makers. First up, one of Scotland's most exciting new bands, the bleakly romantic Edinburgh electro/folk collective whose Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues was our 16th and UK music bloggers' 46th favourite album of 2008, Meursault, and more precisely leader Neil Pennycook.

    First single bought: Bruce Springsteen - Streets Of Philadelphia
    First album bought: Jive Bunny Mastermix
    First gig voluntarily attended: The Rolling Stones @ Murrayfield
    The record that most made you want to get into music: Radiohead - The Bends
    The three headliners at a festival you were curating: Neutral Milk Hotel, Radiohead, the Pogues
    A song not enough people know about but everyone should hear: Charles Latham - Hard On
    A song you'd play to get people dancing: Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Young Shields
    The last great thing you heard: Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane
    Your key non-musical influences: Kurt Vonnegut, Miranda July, David Shrigley, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Woody Allen, Craig Thompson, Seth
    Your favourite new artist: Samamidon

    The Furnace
    A Few Kind Words

    Order direct from Song, By Toad Records

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Now, that's what they call music

    mp3 time again and being the first selection of the new year there's loads to get through, culminating in grab-bags from two of our favourite labels, so hold tight.

    Between about 1977 and 1981, deep in the underground of weekly music paper classifieds, a cassette only scene of shabbily recorded but hugely charming bedroom bands took hold under the genre label 'messthetics' - Bob Stanley, who out of all indie pop's men of words was always the most likely to eventually document it, wrote about it for the Guardian in 2006. We wonder if Stanley or such DIY "it was easy, it was cheap, go and do it" provocateurs have come across Internet Forever yet, because the Laura Wolf/Heartbeeps 'super''group' are very much in that image. We've posted a track of theirs before but they've been sending out a home recorded 'live' EP, their live formation now swelled to a trio, to whoever wanted one so it was the least we could do to showcase them again. Back then we described them as "a Los Campesinos! affected by the credit crunch"; in this format, recorded through a suction hose as it may sound, the distorted references to Times New viking and Casiotone For The Painfully Alone come equally to the fore. Yes. Their debut single arrives in April.

    Internet Forever - Pages of Books (live)

    Blacklands is essentially one Al Murphy, who formerly traded as Murphy Kid & The Bad Luck Band where "shared the same bill as Bob Dylan", whatever that entails. Under this new guise he and his band have played with Alessi's Ark and Sons Of Noel And Adrian and took to the Yorkshire Moors to record the Beware The Moon EP, released tomorrow on neednowater Records (they put on the Kick The Plug nights at the Wilmington Arms, Clerkenwell, which has recently played host to STN favourites Superman Revenge Squad, Kat Flint and Stars Of Sunday League) The sound is very sparse, very folky and very delicate, the sort of thing you'd expect to be made after dark in a Moors farmhouse.

    Blacklands - Come Sad Light Of Dawn

    Someone else we've briefly mentioned before is Muddy Suzuki, and his second album Meetoo is out on the 26th. We say 'his' as it's a one man operation - we've remarked before on how it is that members of the Electric Soft Parade always have plenty going on besides, and drummer Damo Waters is no exception. As well as gigs at the back for Restlesslist, The Voluntary Butler Scheme, Chris T-T and Jim Bob (yes, from Carter USM) Waters works under what we called "Andy Partridge-inflected compact prog-pop", but his horizons even given that fairly wide-ranging scope have broadened to variously encompass Cardiacs-esque rollercoaster English pop being shaken vigorously, shimmering adult contemplation, glitch beats, charging power-pop and the odd ambient soundscape. It's a very fine album and another testament to Drift Records as a home for artists of quality and distinction.

    Muddy Suzuki - D-Punk/Shimmering

    And now we're going to take a complete liberty with label and site alike as we waste the bandwidth of Americana resource Fresh Deer Meat. Last month Drift gave them a set of album tracks and exclusives from the pick of their roster, and these are they:

    Cottonmouth Rocks - Cheap Thrills: Johny and Sally of Thirty Pounds Of Bone introduce Royal Trux/Kills two-piece dark road movie griminess to 'other'
    Le Reno Amps - Airwaves: Glaswegians with a natty line in alt-country power-pop
    Matt Eaton - Going My Way: Actress Hands leader turns big country balladeer, with Rose Elinor Dougall on backing vocals
    The R.G. Morrison - Virginia (South Coast Remix): Drift's co-founder debuts his forthcoming sophomore album with Elliott Smith-recalling haunted storytelling Americana
    Thirty Pounds Of Bone - The Jonah Shanty: openers of The Class Of '09, this folk balladeering is from their forthcoming And They Go Down To It In Ships EP
    Thomas White - The Emerald Tree: two solo albums planned in 2009, and this from the first of those picks up where the smoky psych of I Dream Of Black left off.

    Myspaces: Cottonmouth Rocks, Le Reno Amps, Matt Eaton, The R.G. Morrison, Thirty Pounds Of Bone, Thomas White

    And while we're about it, let's raid the carefully stored catalogue of another offbeat folk label we've supported. Song, By Toad Records is based in Edinburgh and run by the same person who does the blog of the same name. Their first large scale release, Meursault's Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues, finished 16th in our end of year list and, rather more pleasingly surprisingly, was number 46 in the UK blogger poll. Meursault we'll come back to later in the week, but Song, By Toad has more where that came from:

    Eagleowl: slow-burning, gorgeously emotional lo-fi folk collected on mini-album For The Thoughts You Never Had.

    Nightjar: Applachian bluegrass and delicate folk from a collective featuring Kris Drever and former members of Aberfeldy. From the album The Moth Trap.
    Poor Man's Son
    Lady Of The Calico

    Rob St John: intricately arranged pastoral folk with a genuine, heartfelt edge. EP Like Alchemy is available through his Myspace.
    A Red Heron

    Thirty original chart hits on one posh double album

    As part of the series' 25th anniversary the original Now That's What I Call Music is issued for the first time on CD today, and nobody mention that it actually came out in December 1983. Hope they've acknowledged the pig somewhere in the artwork (legend has it that the title came from the slogan on an advert for Danish Bacon Factories which was in Richard Branson's office, hence the porcine mascot, voiced by Brian Glover in the adverts, for the first five volumes). Sadly they've updated the advert, which is a shame as nothing says 1983 more than Tracy Ullman over floaty screens:

    Anyway, while the grown up kids of the mid-80s once again enjoy Will Powers' Kissing With Confidence and a Limahl solo single, we'll be marking the anniversary properly in a couple of days. In the meantime:

    Now That's What I Call A Challenge, an attempt to review the whole record

    Breaking More Waves also covered the inaugral set recently

    TV Cream's rundown of the first twenty

    Sunday, January 11, 2009

    The hype machine

    So Little Boots topped the BBC Sound Of '09 industry poll, heralded today with purely coincidentally timed big catch-up features in both the Times and Guardian. We have nothing against Victoria Hesketh - we'd like to like her far more than we do, actually - but such poll-of-polls efforts smack a little of the demand that a new year requires the record buying public to be shaped a certain way. In recent years it's overseen an assortment of messages - guitars are back, UK R&B will finally conquer all, it's time for the big soulful singers, it's time for flamboyant pop, it's time for proper real emotion dammit - which has worked wonders for previous winners Adele, Mika, Corinne Bailey Rae, Keane and 50 Cent (oh, and The Bravery) OK, they missed the Lily'n'Kate brigade, but the former emerged a couple of months into the year and the latter was certainly around at the start of 2007 but nobody expected that much that soon. Interestingly, the previous winners had the radio wind behind them with singles out within ten weeks of the start of the year, while as far as we can tell Little Boots has nothing currently on the slab.

    So clearly 2009, whoever you talk to, is in commercial terms (he writes, neatly sidestepping the two pieces already posted about albums to watch for and artists to watch out for - they're persona opinion suggestions to keep an eye on straws in the wind whereas this is The Man at pop's AGM laying out his plans for the year, OK?) going to be the year of girls with synths, with La Roux, Lady GaGa and VV Brown also managing top ten positions in the poll along with the suitably girly and not-rocky Florence And The Machine. The other assumption, that this means the death of landfill indie, is somewhat undermined by the appearance at number two of White Lies, the favourite band of copyrighters (they're sub-Editors. Thank you), but what's that sort of thing between friends. There doesn't seem at first to be a lot to back up the assumption that this is what the public are crying out for - Roisin Murphy, Ladyhawke and Lykke Li hardly set the charts alight in 2008 - unless A&Rs are seeing the sales for Duffy and the Killers and putting two and two together or someone's taking a post-Ting Tings flyer, but on a wider roadmap you can see the collective cogs whirring and printing out the equation: "Wonky Pop" plus credible backer (Joe Goddard of Hot Chip) plus credible background (Dead Disco, a kind of poor man's New Young Pony Club) plus Web 2.0 (every single piece of press mentions the covers she uploaded to YouTube) plus gives quotes that are slightly more interesting than those Beyonce gives and is thus "not your average bland pop diva" plus doesn't play guitar plus ELECTRICAL BOX OF ELECTRO MAJICK - you'd be forgiven for thinking from the tone of many of her pieces that she'd invented the Tenori-On, the Japanese gadget that allows the user to replicate the underlying backing on recent Kylie singles - equals right place, right time. As with Florence Welch, an attempt to connect the worlds of indie cred, big ol' voice, slightly out of date cred signifier (managed by the Queens Of Noize - what is this, 2005?), bit bluesy/folky, doesn't play guitar and the obviously never cloying at all power of a 'kooky' girl gabbling about how wild and wacky she is, there's no obvious way of selling them as they are - in the 2008 review we assumed that Florence would be watered down for mainstream use and presented as a more outre companion to Kate Nash, but that angle doesn't seem to have rooted, presumably because of the desire for a 'quirky' 'character' - so everyone's going to use osmosis apparently. This is what you want, this is what you shall have. The eighties are going to be big because it's all modern and shiny, indie is over (big of them, give they repositioned indie to begin with), MGMT is the direction everyone else should be heading because... oh, because. It's very much a semi-snobbish critics' idea of what You The Public Should Do. (Sidenote: for all the critical garlanding of one and time-passed deriding of the other, the Kooks album comfortably outsold Oracular Spectacular)

    And isn't this groupthink increasingly the problem with Tips For 20xx? After last year, when the one to watch candidate was deemed by all media to be between Adele and Duffy with no third way allowed past the specialist press, it seems this year that not only are the same names cropping up time and again with little or no diversity but artists are being specifically bred for being mentioned in 2009 dispatches, because of course they're the ones with the promo money being showered upon them. Like Adele and her connections with Jamie T and Jack Penate, Florence Welch has been known about for eighteen months on the scene because of her links with Alex James, Dev Hynes and assorted London club glitterati. Seven of the shortlisted fifteen are on Universal labels. Three of the top four have already been in signed bands, two faux-indies and an actual indie with Mercury support (Fear Of Flying were on Young And Lost, White Lies are on fellow Universal subsidiary Fiction). This here is how it's meant to be or your money back, or rather your advance immediately wanted back. Square this up against, say, the career progression of Annie, who as we've said before was us pale homely hipsters' idea of a big pop star but didn't get a push for her first album apparently because the label didn't think a fervent online fanbase that had got Chewing Gum into the top thirty on minimal promotion would transfer to a wider audience, so signed to Island, worked with both Xenomania, Richard X and Paul Epworth and admits she deliberately wrote more commercially minded songs, braced herself for a big push, then got dropped before the album was so much as released. Too much of a threat to the established order, too enigmatic, too hipster-focused (it took Girls Aloud years to acknowledge that they might have fans because of the music rather than the image, and Rachel Stevens still hasn't been let into the secret)? Nobody's saying yet, but if she didn't have an album already under her belt it's a fair shout that she'd have fit right in in some jagged jigsaw piece way with the prevailing trend.

    Such homogenised strategy is reflected in how the way they're written up is subject to a concensus of opinion about what these people actually are or where they might slot in, a Trojan horse hook to hang someone else's expectations of at least 150,000 first album sales on. If you allow, say, VV Brown to label herself "indie doo-wop" then that's what she is. You're right, doo-wop is generally carried off in multi-part harmony and thus doesn't really lend itself to a solo singer, and she's not 'indie' in any sense either, but fair goes for trying. (And special congratulations and possibly a crate of champagne to the Mirror, who refer to Kid British as a "ska-kissed Specials". Can you possibly imagine such a thing?) In her own Sound Of '09 interview La Roux opined "Music doesn't feel honest any more... and it's so contrived now." In the very same piece, Elly Jackson told the expectant world "we don't listen to anything apart from '80s music" and "I want to see people who aren't afraid to look a bit mad and have crazy hair". And after all, what could be less contrived than following in the footsteps of Visage, Yazoo, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and Frankie Goes To Hollywood?

    And this is why a lot of this year's big preview winners don't ring true. What sector of the record buying public are they being aimed at? Does Little Boots really have distinguishable massive hits in her? Have labels decided that it's not worth finding someone interesting on their own terms, presumably because those type of people just emerge anyway? Almost all the girls mentioned in such terms refer to Kate Bush as a major influence, but Kate Bush was comprehensively enigmatic at a very tender age and Wuthering Heights sounded even more alien then then it sounds now. She certainly wasn't demanding you admire her Tenori-On and her hair.