Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Weekly Sweep

  • The Acorn - Crooked Legs [YouTube]
  • Alessi's Ark - Over The Hill [YouTube]
  • Animal Collective - My Girls [YouTube]
  • Bat For Lashes - Glass [Myspace]
  • Blue Roses - Doubtful Comforts [Myspace]
  • Brakes - Hey Hey [YouTube]
  • Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career [Myspace] (Headlining Indietracks! They announced about two thirds of the bill on Friday and it's a corker - Lucky Soul, The School, BMX Bandits, Ray Rumours, Speedmarket Avenue, The Lovely Eggs, Pocketbooks, Tender Trap, Little My, The Smittens, unlikely as it seems The Frank And Walters... Actually, Stuart/Emma/whoever else, if you're reading, we know you take requests so a band we'd really like to see there this year are...)
  • Cats On Fire - Letters From A Voyage To Sweden [mp3]
  • Dananananaykroyd - Black Wax [Myspace]
  • Doves - Kingdom Of Rust [YouTube]
  • Emmy The Great - First Love [YouTube]
  • Everything Everything - Photoshop Handsome [Myspace]
  • Fleet Foxes - Mykonos [YouTube]
  • First Aid Kit - You're Not Coming Home Tonight [Myspace]
  • Future Of The Left - The Hope That House Built [YouTube]
  • Hatcham Social - Murder In The Dark [YouTube]
  • Ice, Sea, Dead People - My Twin Brother's A Brother [Myspace]
  • The Maccabees - No Kind Words [YouTube]
  • Pagan Wanderer Lu - 2.0///The Bridge Of Sighs [Myspace]
  • Titus Andronicus - Titus Andronicus [YouTube]
  • Thursday, February 26, 2009

    The Music That Made... Dan Michaelson

    Michaelson's is the treacle-thick Cash/Cohen croon that fronts up the melancholy alt-folk-indie-pop of Absentee. So far so good, but he's now raised the game with Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards, in which with the aid of a group of friends including members of the Magic Numbers, the Rumble Strips and the Broken Family Band he lets the storytelling mask slip and goes into downbeat, close at heart territory, the album Saltwater (released 9th March) more delicate, built around plangent piano or unshowy guitar to great slow burn effect. The only thing we know to do presented with such a body of work is of course ask the same old questions:

    First single bought: Mirror Man by The Human League
    First album bought: Pet Shop Boys - Disco, Via Britania discount music club.
    First gig voluntarily attended: Spiritualized at the Roadmender, Northampton. Consequently this made up my next five voluntary gigs also... they were local and I was crazy about them.
    The record that most made you want to get into music: Transformer by Lou Reed
    The three headliners at a festival you were curating: Super Furry Animals, Radiohead, Leonard Cohen
    A song not enough people know about but everyone should hear: Obviously I would have to say Bust by Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards. Vanity is very becoming I've heard.
    A song you'd play to get people dancing: Kentucky Rain by Elvis Presley, at an Elvis Presley look-a-like contest where only line dancing is allowed.
    The last great thing you heard: Dion - Born To Be With You. It's the album he did with Spector that seemed to disappear for a while. He thought it was terrible. It's brilliant.
    Your key non-musical influences: Stews... the long and slow process of tenderizing meat.
    Your favourite new artist: Sam Amidon. His All Is Well album was given to me by the guy who produced my album (Valgeir Sigurdsson). It's traditional American folk re-imagined by a young American.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Discourse 2000 #5

    NOMINATED BY: Iain Forrester of ifblog

    From releasing Mogwai and Arab Strap records through to The Phantom Band’s current emergence, Chemikal Underground has over a decade’s history of excellence. As such, The Delgados’ own music has long risked being overshadowed by the label they run. I would contend, though, that Hate outdoes anything ever released on it.

    The even more confident follow-up to 2000’s Mercury-nominated The Great Eastern, Hate is a grandiose and touching study of finding beauty in despair. To realise their expanded visions, they employed a choir, something approaching half an orchestra and production from Dave Fridmann, this being back before he crossed the line between making records sound enormous and making MGMT hurt people’s ears.

    The record is built around the elaborate possibilities that result, from the brief passage of widescreen tranquillity that opens it, to the choral chanting that surrounds Emma Pollock’s gorgeous voice on “Woke From Dreaming” and lends an extra sinister edge, to the moment that the chorus of All Rise crashes in and it sounds like half the world is rising in response.

    It’s also a record shot through with sadness - at times poetic, at times brutally straightforward (one repeated line in Child Killers is "the truth is our lives were shite"). A quick flick through the booklet and glance at the lines they chose to highlight gives you as a representative sample: "We will kill if we need to", "Bring on the screaming and I’ll take your demons", "If you dare, look up and see what’s there" and "You look older/You look harder and tired and colder".

    Even when not musically pushing this darkness, there is always a certain tension to even the calmer moments. They seem ever ready, at the crash of a drum or stab of strings to turn to turmoil. Yet there is still a strange glint of hope, a feeling as if by facing their demons and by outdoing them in scale, by finding some beauty in them, they can nullify them.

    There are also a couple well placed moments of light relief, at least in context. Coming In From The Cold is a more stripped down and musically upbeat nod to their indie-pop past, though the lyrics are still not exactly straightforwardly hopeful.

    Then there’s perversely joyful highlight All You Need Is Hate, in which they take on not just The Beatles but every love song ever. Throughout a relentlessly catchy three minute stomp they marry lovingly embellished classic pop to lines like "We kicked and punched and stabbed to death/And everyone applauded my fine actions/I was overcome", delivered with a cutting, manic pleasure by other singer Alun Woodward.

    Somehow, neither the issue of that as a single, nor a release on a slightly bigger label than their own succeeded in gaining Hate the audience that it deserved. It’s perhaps not surprising then that their (still enjoyable) final album set its sights a little lower. Hate still stands, as then, as a massive but overlooked achievement.

    Coming In From The Cold

    All You Need Is Hate

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Sweeping The Nation Covermount 16: Talk Talk

    The first proper Covermount of 2009 was a tricky one to finalise, we'll be honest with you. The concept was simple enough - songs which centrally feature spoken word rather than singing. What we ended up with was a shortlist that came to twice as long as our arbitrarily decided 74 minute CDR length limit. So yes, there are omissions - John Cooper Clarke, Slint, Tindersticks' My Sister, Gang Of Four's Paralysed, James Yorkston's Woozy With Cider to name five late deletions, mostly for space reasons - but we wanted to keep it interesting and little-known where possible so allow us some leeway.

    Talk Talk

    Ken Nordine - Green
    Linda Blair's vocal coach for The Exorcist, 1960s hipster favourite Nordine's 'word jazz' style was put into action by a paint company who commissioned him in 1967 to write a number of surrealistic pieces on colours for their campaign. So well did they go down that Nordine re-recorded them and added a load more for an album called Colors.

    Tom Waits - What's He Building?
    Waits has admitted his own compellingly dark spoken word pieces are influenced by Nordine, and the pair collaborated on Nordine's Devout Catalyst album in 1991. This heartening tale of paranoid suspicion is from 1999's Mule Variations.

    Billy Bragg - Walk Away Renee
    It is connected to the Four Tops song of the same name, albeit only in that Johnny Marr's playing a guitar line based on the original vocal melody behind and it was originally on the B-side of Levi Stubbs Tears. Is it really a cover if it changes so much? That's for committees to discuss, we'll just concentrate on the many one-liners Bragg had been meaning to get into a song for a while. It's now on career collection Must I Paint You A Picture.

    William Campbell & Kevin MacNeil - Local Man Ruins Everything
    As well as sharing a name with McCartney's double in the Paul Is Dead story, William Campbell was singer in briefly Next Big Thing status holders Isle Of Lewis power-pop outfit Astrid and was in Gary Lightbody's The Reindeer Section. MacNeil is a local award winning poet. They've been promising a collaborative album for a couple of years but we'd almost prefer it to remain this good a one-off.

    Adam Gnade & Youthmovies - It's Five O'Clock in America
    Youthmovies you'll probably know, Oxford trumpet-aided math-pop acolytes who grew Foals in a test tube. Gnade is a Portland, Oregon based New Weird America sideman who writes novels and puts some of his prose over a wide range of musical styles. They combined for 2007's Honey Slides EP.

    BARR - Half Of Two Times Two
    Brendan Fowler, another one of those graduates from The Smell (see also: Abe Vigoda, HEALTH, Lavender Diamond, The Mae Shi, Mika Miko, No Age), has BARR as an outlet for meta-deconstructive confessionals. Debut album Summary is described in its own press release as "a document of the body as a record... record(ing) the idiosyncratic nature of thought processes".

    Drive-By Truckers - The Three Great Alabama Icons
    The sophisti-rednecks lightly fictionalised the Lynyrd Skynyrd story as a metaphor for the southern states on 2001's Southern Rock Opera, taking the story on with a joint consideration in context of Ronnie Van Zant, pro-racially segregationist governor George Wallace, and hugely successful university football coach Bear Bryant, who doesn't seem to get much of a look-in.

    Hank Williams - Too Many Parties And Too Many Pals
    Actually, technically this is by Luke The Drifter, a nom de plume Williams worked up for an idealized gospel preacher type as a vehicle for his recitations. Williams was famously a drunken carouser who died aged 29, making him the diametric opposite of Luke. That was surely the idea. All the Luke The Drifter songs are collected on Beyond The Sunset.

    Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia... - Morning After Pill
    Right, back to the wilful young Brits. MBICR were Oxford Peel favoured post-rockers who merged the overwhelming guitar surges with Emily Gray's dark, claustrophobic poetry readings, here on the 2001 mini-album Indian Ink. And in case you didn't before, you now understand that lyric in Los Campesinos!' Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s).

    ballboy - I Hate Scotland
    It was a shame that Gordon McIntyre's individualist tales of national non-pride emerged in the slipstream of Belle & Sebastian because it gave too many journalists too easy a hook and McIntyre, as proved here, is more culturally cutting. EP compilation Club Anthems 2001 is the album.

    David Holmes - The Holiday Girl
    AKA Arab Strap's remix of Don't Die Just Yet, because when there's so much of the band's material we could have used we might as well dig a little deeper. Yeah, it's about a girl Aidan Moffatt can't get with.

    Talking Heads - Seen And Not Seen
    Remain In Light was the apotheosis of the David Byrne/Brian Eno axis, deconstructing recording by melding layers of jammed polyrhythms and synth pulses together in the mix. It also opened the cracks that led to their poppier sound from then on and ultimate split.

    Prince Buster - Judge Dread
    The importance of Cecil Bustamente Campbell to Jamaican ska cannot be underestimated. His importance to law and order, less so. Fabulous Greatest Hits is generally a good place to start, but we really need a complete career overview of more than twelve tracks.

    The Barbarians - Moulty
    The Barbarians were one of the Nuggets set of American garage rock bands, from Massachusetts in fact. Apart from having long hair, their calling card was that drummer Victor 'Moulty' Moulton had a prosthetic hook in lieu of a left hand, having lost it in an accident aged 14, this being his autobiographical tale of success over adversity. It later turned out that Moulty aside the rest of the band aren't even on the track, replaced at short notice by studio band The Hawks, who later became The Band.

    James Brown - King Heroin
    Not exactly the JBs at their on the one-esque funky best, from 1972's There It Is, and not exactly to the letter either - specifics, we know, but just the idea of James Brown delivering an anti-drugs sermon.

    Material with William S Burroughs - Words Of Advice
    Material is the band name for the work of the feted and always in demand world-funk bassist Bill Laswell, whose other band Praxis contains the dream pairing of Funkadelic key member Bernie Worrell and Guns'n'Roses' celebrated ex-guitarist Buckethead. This is from Material's 1994 album Hallucination Engine.

    Barry Adamson - Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis
    As with Aidan'n'Malcolm we're spoilt for choice for Jarvis Cocker narrations, so we picked something he did for someone else, ex-Magazine bassist and scorer of imaginary films Barry Adamson's 1996 LP Oedipus Schmoedipus. Jarvis has the full box of vocal tics out here, and we suspect he was listening to a lot of Serge Gainsbourg at the time.

    Jegsy Dodd and the Original Sinners - Grumpy Old Men
    Scouse poet laureate Dodd first emerged in 1985 with Jegsy Dodd And The Sons Of Harry Cross, contemporaries of Half Man Half Biscuit on Probe Plus, and returned to music in 2004 with the tremendously titled Wake Up And Smell The Offy, from which this... can we call it the inverse of that whole Baz Luhrmann Sunscreen business?

    The Shangri-Las - Past, Present And Future
    And a proper oddity from a group who were fairly offbeat to begin with, when you think about Shadow Morton's habits and stuff like Leader Of The Pack. Appropriating Moonlight Sonata - and to think Glasvegas didn't think we'd notice when they did the same - Mary Weiss suggests something has happened and she's not at journalistic liberty to reveal exactly what it was. Also, it gives us another chance to luxuriate in the fact their best Best Of is called Myrmidons Of Melodrama.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    Discourse 2000 #4

    NOMINATED BY: Thomas Ferguson, who among other things gave this feature its name and is curating a compilation of songs in response to Two Of The Beatles Have Died, participants in which so far include the Cuban Boys and MJ Hibbett.

    In September of 2001, two days after the Manhattan skyline was afforded a very big and sad new negative space, I was stood awestruck in Southampton Guildhall as a man in a mask of John Lennon threw celery at people. It’s difficult to blame nostalgia for what I’m about to express, especially as this is about a band that are still functioning exceptionally well touring an album less than ten years ago, but there was something in particular about the Rings Around The World tour in surround sound that bristled with a kind of demented, extraordinary sorcery only Super Furry Animals are fully able to operate at will. Yes, the band at the time were occasionally a bit shambolic as they hadn’t fully formed the audio-visual live performance assault that was honed on the tours for Phantom Power and LoveKraft (they didn’t even reappear dressed as sasquatches after the twenty minute techno finale) but they were now deeper, sharper, bolder and – thanks to the stack of speakers parenthesising the venue – much, much louder.

    Rings Around The World itself was, admittedly, difficult to love at first. Having been left in the fallout after the well-documented implosion of Creation Records, they released the charming and summery Mwng on their own Placid Casual label, making it the biggest selling Welsh language album of all time and getting the band mentioned in The House Of Commons. However, their album for new home Epic, which had the working title Text Messaging Is Killing The Pub Quiz As We Know It, was initially critically derided for all the reasons it later became so easy to adore.

    SFA were still essentially, despite their brief rustic departure into the Valleys, still viewed by the press paying attention to them as those oddball sunshine Welsh lads with their pink techno tanks and inflatable pandas and songs about Sian Lloyd. While the album still explored the same sort of themes touched upon in Guerrilla, of global communication and the development of a new digital world, it seemed light years away from that album’s explosive bubblegum disposition. War, longing, religion, politics and loss all ran much darker lyrically throughout the album, meaning despite its eclecticism and eccentricities it still held together properly as an album of bleaker things, sometimes angry, sometimes sentimental, sometimes unbearably melancholic. That Gruff can sing a frank song about the holy grail of comedy writing at the time, the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, and make it sound utterly heartbreaking is perhaps testament to his skill as one of our most under-celebrated vocalists.

    The album’s inability to stick to a specified style was also a feature derided at the time but, ultimately, has cemented it as an exemplary document of what makes the band so brilliant. Despite its diverse nature, the whole thing holds together in a remarkable, almost narrative way. No Sympathy melts from acerbic into a frenzied acid-breakcore riot. (Drawing) Rings Around The World sounds like Status Quo having a go at Fuzzy Logic. Receptacle For The Respectable transmogrifies from jangly harmony pop into headbangable death metal. Juxtaposed With U even sounded a bit like The Lighthouse Family. It was also, perhaps coincidentally, the first time that the band had started sounding like everybody had been describing them, as if Muse had somehow just done an actual rip-off of OK Computer. When Steve Lamacq played new tracks on air, he said “when I first saw the Super Furries live with Alan McGee, he turned to me and said, ‘Steve they sound like The Beach Boys’. Super Furry Animals have never sounded like The Beach Boys to me. And yet suddenly...”

    With a simultaneous release on DVD in 5.1 surround sound with accompanying films for each song (including a Cuban cigar crisis and a list of things the Bible believes is punishable by death), Rings Around The World evidently sought to be a new 21st century listening experience of sorts. Yet it should be better remembered as the album that could first hold any sort of watertight claim as being the band’s flawed masterpiece. Plus, it’s just really good. Really, really good.

    Presidential Suite (from the DVD)

    (Drawing) Rings Around The World

    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Alan MX - Warpsichord [YouTube]
  • Animal Collective - My Girls [YouTube]
  • Blue Roses - Doubtful Comforts [Myspace]
  • Brakes - Hey Hey [YouTube]
  • Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career [Myspace]
  • Cats On Fire - Letters From A Voyage To Sweden [mp3]
  • Dananananaykroyd - Black Wax [Myspace]
  • Dent May And His Magnificent Ukelele - Meet Me In The Garden [Myspace]
  • Doves - Kingdom Of Rust [YouTube]
  • Emmy The Great - First Love [YouTube]
  • Fleet Foxes - Mykonos [YouTube]
  • Future Of The Left - The Hope That House Built [Myspace]
  • Ice, Sea, Dead People - My Twin Brother's A Brother [Myspace]
  • Klak Tik - Culinary Skills Of A Modern Man [Myspace]
  • The Maccabees - No Kind Words [YouTube]
  • Teitur - Catherine The Waitress [Myspace]
  • Those Dancing Days - Those Dancing Days [YouTube]
  • Titus Andronicus - Titus Andronicus [YouTube]
  • The Voluntary Butler Scheme - Multiplayer [YouTube]
  • The Walkmen - In The New Year [YouTube]

    IMPORTANT COVERMOUNT NEWS: there's a new Covermount uploaded and ready for posting on Monday, but that's not the important news. What is important is that we've been meaning for a while now to give a once-over to the very first and still possibly the most popular Covermount we've ever done, the one collecting 21 examples of songs that start with the Be My Baby drumbeat. We've achieved this by reuploading the whole thing - the Smog track was previously m4a as opposed to mp3 because, um, we forgot to change it - and adding some proper notes in the post rather than in a document within the zip file. The improved Be My Babies is now up for your delectation, if you've never sufficiently delectised it before now.
  • Friday, February 20, 2009

    The questions nobody else is asking this week

    All the same, a few things that have been prying on our musical mind.

    Is metal really going to make a comeback?
    Now, before Justin Hawkins starts jumping up and down frantically gesticulating at his hair, two points, neither of which are "nobody cares about Hot Leg". The Darkness were an interesting case for two reasons: a) they arrived, became massive within two singles, won three Brits, then were as good as over by the second single from the second album, and b) perhaps because the labels were cautious as to how serious this actually was nobody saw it as an opportunity to foist more heavy rock bands on the public. Towers Of London came from something else, Do Me Bad Things didn't have the guts to carry off the whole deal, Tokyo Dragons never took off, Three Inches Of Blood actually signed to Must Destroy and toured with The Darkness but neither could carry it through into

    something sellable. But now look. Some of the press made an attempt to cast this year's Brits as a haven of metal because AC/DC and Iron Maiden received cursory nominations for doing pretty much what they've been doing for the previous twenty years, but now Def Leppard and Whitesnake are playing Download, Judas Priest are touring arenas with Megadeth supporting, Guitar Hero is bringing solo wankery to the masses and the dual stigmas of nu-metal idiocy and yoof TV presenters in Top Shop Motorhead T-shirts has been cast to recent history. It's always been the great underground rock culture, it just required fashion to come back around. To be fair, the new bands aren't yet making themselves known - Trivium might, Mastodon have an album coming, Architects can keep up the British leg - but we suspect it's only a matter of time. Don't sleep.

    What's to be done with The Saturdays?
    Una! Mollie! Frankie! Vanessa! Rochelle! It's not even happening name-wise, is it? The Saturdays so far are in an odd position, hardly helped by that name. Their album had sold 141,000 copies the last time anyone counted, they've had two top five singles, Lily Allen and Emma Bunton are professed fans, but breaking through as a mainstream name just isn't happening yet, despite getting the Comic Relief single - and yes, it's a lumpen synths'n'flesh cover that everyone will conveniently forget ever happened when the comedy single comes along, cf. McFly's All About You wilting in the Amarillo heat (this year: Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon with Tom Jones. Do you see what they've done there?) They've got the modernist production style, but Girls Aloud and the Sugababes, who let's face it are one and two in this current field of three, are tied in with all that already, and they're linked to bigger names than the six credited with working on their album. They're on the same label as Girls Aloud, Fascination Records, which obviously led many to assume that Girls Aloud were on their way out so Cheryl could continue building on her own career in whatever her own career is this week. But Girls Aloud have just publicly signed for three more albums starting next year. They're huge among the poptimists, but so is Annie. They've had appearing-as-self TV placements, but no further than that thing based on Greek mythology on Saturday lunchtime BBC2 and Hollyoaks Later, which nobody's watching for the guest appearances. But they're on the cover of FHM! Oh, is it 1999 again? What this all covers is they've not had that one big radio-colonising song yet, and you wonder about their future if the label think the Girls Aloud bandwagon has scope to expand even further.

    Is landfill indie really all over?
    White Lies being taken seriously? The Rifles in the album chart top 30? WTF?

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Brit of a do

    It's Brit Awards night, and as ever the orgy of self-congratulation is accompanied by its undesirable parent or guardian the Anything Can Happen Night Of The Year motif. Bollocks, of course, but it's a piece of self-mythologising that people genuinely believe in. The Times' "you know that music we've been airily dismissing for the last year? Forget that, it's all wonderful and fine" piece on Saturday contained this quote by Mike Smith, managing director of Columbia Records. “The things that happen at the Brits are major cultural events. Jarvis Cocker undermining Michael Jackson; John Prescott being humiliated by Chumbawamba.” Yeah, except the Prescott water incident was a sixth form common room prank made stupid flesh - Chumbawamba sneaking an anti-Labour pro-striking Liverpool docker message into their performance on the night of Tubthumping was far more direct and connective but nobody thought to follow it up - and as for the thing everyone says was the great leveller of 90s music in Britain... well, until some footage turned up three days later nobody knew what Jarvis had actually done apart from get on stage as the event director missed it, and indeed the story the following day was that he'd been arrested for assaulting a child who was onstage with Jackson, it turning out that several had been knocked over by security men rushing to grab him from well away from Jacko and company. Yeah, an immediate cultural impact there.

    Still, if we must we must. So, from just before 8pm we'll be live Twitter commentating on the Brit awards, hopefully not so much in so short a time that we get suspended from the service like Graham Linehan during his Bad Film Club experiment the other night. And yes, you're more than welcome to chip in. Let's get #brits onto the front of Twitter Search at the very least.

    Before all the fun commences, we're going to take our semi-legendary 'averaging 5 1/2 at guessing Mercury nominations' talents to bear on who we reckon will win tonight. Put an accumulator on it, why don't you.

    Best British group: Coldplay, Elbow, Girls Aloud, Radiohead, Take That
    Tough call, this. Elbow aren't going to sneak through and Radiohead won't please, well, anyone essentially, but it's cigarette paper stuff between the bankability of the other three. We can see Girls Aloud getting it so ITV can interview Cheryl at even greater length afterwards, but then Take That and Coldplay seem to be the easy options year after year. They can't genuinely give everything to Take That yet again, can they? Coldplay for the fudge win.

    Best British male: Ian Brown, James Morrison, The Streets, Paul Weller, Will Young
    God, look at this for a category. Ian Brown is clearly some sort of new Annie Lennox given his album came out in September 2007, while James Morrison returned in December. Problem is there's nobody at their peak here so it's going to look like the path of least resistance whoever it goes to. Skinner should have won it by now and hasn't, Will Young's barely done much... you can see the thinking if as the reported betting scam has it Paul Weller wins, but it doesn't fill you with a great deal of confidence in the range. Plus he's already got a Lifetime Achievement Award off them.

    Best British female: Adele, Beth Rowley, Duffy, Estelle, MIA
    On the other hand this is three live contenders, one dark horse and Beth Rowley to make up the numbers. We hope she's got nothing planned. With Duffy's success versus the desire to give Adele something for the Brit School promotion it's entirely possible Estelle could sneak through the middle, but Duffy winning would be the red top friendly version of events.

    Best British breakthrough act: Adele, Duffy, The Last Shadow Puppets, Scouting For Girls, The Ting Tings
    God, Scouting For Girls got three nominations for an event through which the BPI hope to sell the nation's taste internationally. Duffy's probably got it sewn up here, but a little voice at the back of our head is just telling us that the Ting Tings could scrape a compromise win.

    Best British single: Adele - Chasing Pavements, Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah, Coldplay - Viva La Vida, Dizzee Rascal/Calvin Harris/Chrome - Dance Wiv Me, Duffy - Mercy, Estelle Ft Kanye West - American Boy, Girls Aloud - The Promise, Leona Lewis - Better in Time, Scouting For Girls - Heartbeat, X Factor Finalists - Hero
    Voted for by commercial radio listeners, so the threat of an X Factor winner and a great long closeup of Simon Cowell is still live. Because if it's not Alexandra, it'll be Duffy again, because the only other proper crossover single hit there is American Boy and commercial radio still doesn't trust urban music.

    Best British Album: Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends, Duffy - Rockferry, Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid, Radiohead - In Rainbows, The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing
    Simple, this. Coldplay win, Chris spends his entire speech apologising to Guy.

    Best British live act: Coldplay, Elbow, Iron Maiden, Scouting For Girls, The Verve
    Voted for by Radio 2 listeners, so you'd imagine a Coldplay-Elbow scrap. Voted for by The People, though, so we're just thinking that a community has got together and decided to bring the metal appreciation to prime time ITV. If this happens, the showbiz columns will be unreadable. No, more so than usual.

    Best international group: AC/DC, Fleet Foxes, The Killers, Kings Of Leon, MGMT
    Best international album: AC/DC - Black Ice, Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes, The Killers - Day & Age, Kings Of Leon - Only By The Night, MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
    What a wide range of overseas talent we take into our hearts these days. Still a good number of tiny meatballs in the Meat Feast offer topping here, none of which will concern the phalanx of stagebound Followhills. America shrugs.

    Best international male: Beck, Neil Diamond, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Seasick Steve
    One of our favourite memories of watching Brits was when Bob Dylan got nominated for this about ten years ago and his turning up in the nominees film was greeted by complete silence from an otherwise constantly screaming audience. Neil Diamond will get this and possibly even less. Seasick Steve is only there for romantic reasons that will not be evident in Kanye's video acceptance.

    Best international female: Beyonce, Gabriella Cilmi, Katy Perry, Pink, Santogold
    Cilmi is being promoted as a British artist in America, partly on the back of Winehousemania and partly because, we assume, the truth might take too long (ie any time) to explain. Perry would be the obvious choice in a way, which is why the judges will have a loss of composure and trust Beyonce more.

    Critics' Choice: Florence And The Machine
    Smelling salts will be provided to anyone wanting to take in Ms Welch's acceptance speech without fearing for the future, and possibly all humanity. Thing is, this time last year Adele, who won this one, had already had a number one, whereas with Florence we're still tentatively feeling our way around what we all think of her. Every chance this could be swept under the carpet by mid-February 2010.

    Producers Award: Bernard Butler
    For what? For big strings, knowing of Martha and the Vandellas' Nowhere To Run in as much detail required to work it into his big hit, and by all concensus ruining Black Kids forever.

    Outstanding Contribution To Music: Pet Shop Boys

    No further questions, your honour. Just don't let Robbie Williams near the stage.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    Go (South By South) west, young men

    The full list of top turns taking to Texas theatres in the name of SXSW is up, as are the usual cross-section of try before you buy mp3s. At which, of course, we get to make a big list of giveaway goodness. These are the links to the band pages, all artists we've previously covered or are just intrigued by, which hold free songs in download and streaming formats; any suggestions for others on the list we should check out, feel free.

    A Classic Education - Stay, Son
    Alessi's Ark - The Horse
    Anathallo - The River
    Au Revoir Simone - A Violent Yet Flammable World
    The Blue Aeroplanes - Jacket Hangs
    The Chap - Proper Rock
    Chris T-T - A-Z
    The Crimea - Loop A Loop
    Dananananaykroyd - Pink Sabbath
    Dent May And His Magnificent Ukelele - Meet Me In The Garden
    Earlimart - Face Down In The Right Town
    Efterklang - Mirador
    Fanfarlo - Harold T Wilkins
    Fight Like Apes - Lend Me Your Face
    Gun Outfit - Troubles Like Mine
    Hamell On Trial - When You're Young
    HEALTH - Crimewave
    Ipso Facto - Six And Three Quarters
    Let's Wrestle - I Won't Lie To You
    The Low Anthem - Charlie Darwin
    The Miserable Rich - Pisshead
    The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Come Saturday
    Peggy Sue - Spare Parts
    Port O'Brien - I Woke Up Today
    Post War Years - The Black Morning
    Sky Larkin - Fossil, I
    We Were Promised Jetpacks - Quiet Little Voices
    The Week That Was - Learn To Learn

    And it's very lucky we got to go through this again because otherwise we'd never have spotted... Mishka! The man whose signing did more than most to bring down Creation Records is still at it!

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    mp3s mp3s mp3s

    We've commented before on the profligacy of Absentee as far as side projects goes, and while three of them readied a Wet Paint album lugubriously voiced singer Dan Michaelson booked some studio time of his own and invited some friends round - Steven Adams of the Broken Family Band, Romeo Stodart of the Magic Numbers, the Rumble Strips horn section, one of Fields, Bjork/Bonnie Prince Billy producer Valgeir Sigurdsson, that sort of friend. What emerged as Saltwater by Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards, released via the ever reliable Memphis Industries on March 9th, an album that simmers down the guitars and, partly with the aid of piano although there are still some songs that wouldn't sound out of place with the main band, attempts to emphasise the alt-country shuffling and/or celebratory aspects of the parent outfit's sound with a bruised personal honesty and tenderness akin at high points to Will Oldham. On the quiet this could touch a good number of people.
    Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards - Ease On In

    Holy Roar Records make a point of "working with bands tha have no peers within the UK", and with a back catalogue including Dananananaykroyd, Rolo Tomassi and Cutting Pink With Knives you can well believe it. Out next Monday is a self-titled EP by their latest discoveries Holy State. Theirs is the ultra-raw riff-based hardcore of Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes, John Reis' outlets either side of the brief and relative cash cow that was Rocket From The Crypt, as well as the likes of the Jesus Lizard, Pulled Apart By Horses and mid-period Husker Du.
    Holy State - Comatones

    And while we're at it, Rifle Fire Rifle are from Leeds but pay little lip service to whatever movement is coming out of there at the moment. Think of it as a bludgeoning take on post-punk, somewhere between The Bronx and early Foo Fighters.
    Rifle Fire Rifle - Burn To Exile

    Shitgaze, they call it in informal company, don't they? Anyway, there's suddenly a lot of it around, and Knight School are right up there with it with album The Poor And Needy Need To Party. Another Lostmusic Records production, the press release makes connections with the lo-fi ideals of C86 and the Pastels, and certainly The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart wouldn't take offence at these miniature (14 tracks in under 24 minutes) buzzsaw garagey, fuzzy hook-laden songs, but by the same token there's plenty of tape recorded hissy, distorted lo-fi a la Times New Viking etc on top of most of these songs.
    Knight School - Maggot

    Headless Heroes are a collective comprising David Holmes, Alela Diane (she had Rough Trade's album of the year in 2007), Screamadelica co-producer Hugo Nicholson and Eddie Bezalel, who as every single piece of British press on the album notes worked on Mark Ronson's Version but is something of an A&R guru in New York. Between them and a horde of highly respected musos they've created The Silence Of Love, an interesting if uneven collection of spectral covers of, Just Like Honey aside, largely little regarded songs, Nick Cave, Daniel Johnston and Vashti Bunyan as well known as it gets. Here's one not by any of them.
    Headless Heroes - To You

    And for comparative reasons, the original from 2001's highly recommended Natural History album, produced, engineered and mixed by one Guy Garvey.
    I Am Kloot - To You

    Sunday, February 15, 2009

    Discourse 2000 #3

    NOMINATED BY: Tom Perry of Tracks From The Stack

    (Signed, you may note)

    Time is a harsh mistress. People have short memories. Time and tide wait for no man. Three sayings which apply well to this forgotten masterwork from March 2000. In theory, Six by Seven had everything going for them when The Closer You Get was released. One very good debut in the bag, a band that seemed to be telepathically tight, new songs and ideas, and the backing of the music press. What stopped them from being as big as former touring partners and friends Placebo? Was it their casual contempt for those who interviewed them, and overall media shy ways? They certainly weren't the touchy-feely-please-hug-me Coldplay, and their firebrand indie rock style was buried on the airwaves from the get go. Spot plays and x-list all the way from Radio One and Xfm. Blink, and you'd miss them in the flurry of Nu-Metal, bad Oasis singles and Travis. Terribly bad timing, and awfully bad luck.

    Whatever it was that derailed their career, it wasn't this album. Opening with the vicious anti-consumerism invective of Eat Junk Become Junk and jumping straight into the punky teenage paean of Sawn Off Metallica T-Shirt, Six by Seven delivered one of the greatest one-two combos ever to open a British alternative album. Their live ferocity, which had been found lacking on their debut was delivered in spades here, misanthropic venom dripping from the pen. That wasn't to say that they were done with slowly building soundscapes. The single, Ten Places To Die, and album centrepiece My Life Is an Accident married Chris Olley's deadly dry vocal style and intense, wailing walls of twin guitar noise. Every instrument was finely balanced within the superb Ric Peet/John Leckie production, all of the songs were excellent, and their sound was genuinely unique. On top of this, the band were peaking in creativity and in their on stage performances.

    Part of me thinks they took their eye off the ball when TCYG was released, thinking that the quality would sell itself. In one telling Rock Sound interview Olley mentioned that they thought the next album would bring the breakthrough. At the time it struck me as an odd thing to say when about to tour a brand new album, as if he was managing expectation within the group. The next album came out, and it was good, but not quite as good, and from there on out it was diminishing returns all round. Despite all of that, there is no getting around the fact that they made a near-perfect rock album that has stood the nine years since it was released magnificently. After a full nine years of albums, almost a decade of direct competition from other bands, this still places in my five best albums of the 00's list. It's just a real shame that so few people have heard it.

    Eat Junk Become Junk (live at Benicassim)

    Ten Places To Die (ditto)

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Alan MX - Warpsichord [YouTube]
  • Animal Collective - My Girls [YouTube]
  • Blue Roses - Doubtful Comforts [Myspace]
  • Brakes - Hey Hey [YouTube]
  • Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career [Myspace] (Title track from - at last! - the album, out 20th April on, woo, 4AD, who've also just signed Broken Records.)
  • Cats On Fire - Letters From A Voyage To Sweden [mp3]
  • Dananananaykroyd - Black Wax [Myspace]
  • Dinosaur Pile-Up - Traynor [Myspace]
  • Emmy The Great - First Love [YouTube]
  • Future Of The Left - The Hope That House Built [Myspace] (Finally out on limited edition 7" on March 16th)
  • Ice, Sea, Dead People - My Twin Brother's A Brother [Myspace]
  • Jeremy Warmsley - If He Breaks Your Heart (acoustic) [Myspace]
  • Napoleon IIIrd - The Sky Is Too High
  • Sexy Kids - Sisters Are Forever [Myspace]
  • Sky Larkin - Octopus 08
  • Suburban Kids With Biblical Names - 1999 [Myspace]
  • The Thermals - Now We Can See [mp3]
  • Those Dancing Days - Those Dancing Days [YouTube]
  • Threatmantics - Little Bird [YouTube]
  • Titus Andronicus - Titus Andronicus [YouTube]

    Discovery of the week: Frank Turner - the crossword

    TWITTER REPOST OF THE WEEK: Y'know, rap culture is slightly different here in the depths of the east Midlands.

  • Friday, February 13, 2009

    Fleet(wood)? Fox's

    Every year the Brits are advertised as "the event at which anything can happen", blithely ignoring that the things that do happen either occur off-screen (Chumbawamba and John Prescott), are missed by the main show director and much of the press until later (Jarvis) or are things you really wouldn't want highlighting for your own PR good (Sharon Osbourne last year). Still, at least they make the effort. Unlike the hosts of the awards that took place twenty years ago today.

    Wikipedia: "The Samantha Fox/Mick Fleetwood show proved to be the single most important event in BPI/BRIT Awards history. It was just so disastrous that the British public's interest was revived and the BRITs became associated with risky live TV." Mmm. Except the following year the whole production ethos changed, ratings collapsed and the awards weren't shown on live TV again until 2007. Here's a more accurate point - why Mick Fleetwood? Sam you can just about see, even if she'd passed her prime as tabloid feature of the day and even her music career had stalled in the UK. Fleetwood? Tango In The Night had resuscitated Fleetwood Mac's career a couple of years earlier and our man in some know assures us it was with half an eye on selling it to an international audience, this being the first year of the Brits as opposed to the BPI Awards, but it's still not enough to throw the drummer in at the deep end, no matter how 'quirky' or how comical the whole size difference is. There were troubles after that - the rehearsal times went to arse, the autocue got moved out of the presenters' eyeline and, by his own admission, Fleetwood was pissed - but chiefly it all looked like a monstrous cock-up and small clips have only ever been excavated for pointing and laughing purposes.

    If only there was some sort of service to which people could upload things previously videoed, eh?

    The BPI have been quick in the past to take down awards clips but this has been up for five months at time of writing so fingers crossed. Scary thing is, given the little and large aspect you'd be forgiven for thinking the standing in wrong place business halfway through was planned, but then Sam goes and comments on it in such a way that it blows the gaff. First comment of the night and they've already blown it. It's also odd, given the more loose interpretations in recent years of the hosting business, how stilted those opening remarks seem even though they're essentially just setting a scene where "anyone who's anyone in the record business is here tonight". Then Mick goes and removes his hat while off camera, which buggers up continuity too. This was the first year they had ver kids in the audience, and the deceleration from jet engine volume to near silence as Fox namechecks Michael Jackson and then Bruce Springsteen really is something. Then there's Phil Collins turning up without Julian Lennon, and then Julian Lennon sheepishly showing up in lieu of the first award winner, and then four grown adults standing around sheepishly. Live on BBC1.

    To stop this being a forest of embeds, here's the other nine parts with synopses:

    Two: The winners eventually show their faces, get horrible mike feedback, scream and try to piss off early. The tone is set. The Christians are nominated for Best British Group, which leads to the celebrated Four Tops introduction, where Mick ploughs on regardless ("they're totally compos mentis, whatever that means") of Sam having introduced them too early and indeed trying to introduce them again throughout, and then having to admit "you don't look like 'em, George!" Brilliantly, they come on to present the next award instead but Mick starts introducing Boy George anyway as bringing "a touch of class, and a touch of culture... which is not the case". You said it. It's as this point they lose an exclusive video message from Michael Jackson, meaning the show underruns, leading to all sorts of malarkey come the end.

    Three: Fourth award: Sam completely loses her place mid-introduction and has to glance off to the wings to get assurance, and following the nominees video package comes this mightily effective piece of crosstalk: "Who's it gonna be, Sam?" "I dunno, because I can't see..." "Wind away!" "OK. *pause* Only one award, Mick." Then she seems to completely lose composure and turns away while still on camera. The Pasadenas and Steve Winwood are nominated for Best British Album, Fairground Attraction win it, and with that ringing endorsement of the future of British music it's just as well nobody makes a cock-up around it at last.

    Four: Mick spectacularly misses his cue while personal grooming takes place. The director gives up and puts the next nominations VT on while Mick is still introducing it. Godley & Creme - Godley & Creme! - present the award, about which Mick makes a completely baffling joke about postmen. Yazz, inventing Agyness Deyn's hairstyle, performs a song that we have never consciously heard before. Mark Knopfler and - hello, teenagers! - Alan Price are wheeled on to announce the formation of the Brits School, and how prescient this anniversary suddenly seems. Price points out then Education Secretary Kenneth Baker, who nearly gets booed out of the building. And they wonder why things had to change.

    Five: The first minute of this might be the greatest minute of broadcasting ever committed to the electromagnetic spectrum. Bill Wyman, Ronnie Wood and an unannounced Gary Davies, who from the way he belatedly walks on clearly isn't sure whether he's supposed to be there yet, arrive on stage to announce Best Newcomer. Everyone chooses this moment to look at each other like lemons ("prompt!") until Wood ventures "do you want me to tell you who's won?" - it's also worth noting that nobody has actually said what the award is - at which Davies suggests "are you not going to have a look at the possibilities first?" Possibilities unforthcoming, a full minute after their introduction Wood seizes the initiative despite a late prevention attempt from Davies, still pining for his possibilities. Brilliantly, winners Bros have their feet up on the dais in front of them when the camera cuts to them. Next one's fine, apart from Fox stumbling all over her intro, but introducing the next live band the pair only succeed in falling over each other. "I reckon we're talking heavy heavy metal! Woo!" "I see. How heavy is that, I wonder?" "Well, pretty..." "We're talking heavy metal, here is Def..." "Leppard!" "Leppard!"

    Six: Our hosts try some comedic intechange, veteran comedy writer Geoff Atkinson given the unenviable task of scripting all this that will never properly be used due to circumstance. That it's to introduce the Best Classical Recording award suggests it's long been abandoned to deaf ears. Someone called Trevor Pinnock wins and gets the shortest award winner shrift you've ever heard. The script for Best Film Soundtrack has Mick inform us that without due "the whole show might grow to an abysmal halt", which he creditably delivers without irony. Sam introduces Justin Hayward and Belinda Carlisle only for a third gentleman to join them. Sam is then given the line, regarding Tanita Tikaram, that "it's still possible for a female to sell her songs and not her image". How the producer must have laughed at that one.

    Seven: Ken Russell co-presents Best Video. There's a routine about the height difference that we're not entirely sure was in the script going on Sam's reaction. Phil Collins, having apologised for Anne Dudley's absence when picking up Best Soundtrack, sheepishly admits she was there before a worryingly manaical laugh and a speech that threatens never to end. Mick, who keeps rubbing his hands together, makes a joke about Rick Astley that nobody picks up on (he'd been cut off from picking up an award the previous year because the event was overrunning).

    Eight: Tina Turner has to stop Annie Lennox walking off stage the wrong way. The silences are getting longer. Bros perform. The chairman of the BPI tells Mick he's "done a wonderful job for us tonight". Presumably that was on the autocue. With a script in eyesight he's better. Not by much, but the improvement is there.

    Nine: Cliff Richard, who actually runs to the stage, picks up the lifetime achievement award, but he's been introduced too early. Obviously. Cliff looks like he's going to give it some in his big moment, except it turns out to be the extended build-up to giving the entire audience a dressing down for booing Kenneth Baker. Their reaction is notably less enthusiastic after that, as we suspect is the director's after he walks right across the front of the presentational podium in shot. And who's closing the whole shebang? Er, "a unique combo", Mark Knopfler and Randy Newman plus everyone else they could think of.

    Ten: And the fantastic thing is, it's just Newman - that's a British youth pop culture extravaganza closed by Randy Newman, everyone - doing his new single as the centrepiece of everyone they could round up. Once it's staggered to a barely acknowledged finish our hosts bid farewell, only for Mick to be handed a card telling him to introduce some Bros videos, only to completely go back on it and get Newman and co to reprise. Falling off the air is an understatement, especially as it's still underrun and BBC1 has to show the Drop The Boy video to hit the news on time, but fitting nonetheless.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Was it twenty years ago today?

    In advance of the china anniversary tomorrow of an event that in its own unique way changed the way music is presented in Britain, which we'll deal with then, we thought we'd dig up the top 40 from this day in 1989. Believe us, these are a lot more difficult to write than it seems.

    40 Monie Love - I Can Do This
    Interesting stuff going on below the waterline this week, by the way, with entries and climbers between 41 and 61 for Pop Will Eat Itself's comic obsessed Can U Dig It, XTC's Mayor Of Simpleton, REM's Stand, the Sundays' Can't Be Sure and the wet leaf that is Dream Kitchen by the Frazier Chorus (fronted by Martin Freeman's brother, fact fans) Meanwhile, the first chart single by one of the early contenders in the by no means undersubscribed field of Big Future International Homegrown Rap Star failing to make a career of it.

    39 Big Country - Peace In Our Time
    Big Caledonian anthemry of the Fight This Problem school.

    38 Level 42 - Tracie
    Is there any call for this sort of thing in modern polite society?

    37 Sam Brown - Stop
    Big ol' showboating soul belter from Joe's daughter widely assumed to have a long and fulfilling career as an international star ahead. Last seen singing backup for Jools Holland's band.

    36 Debbie Gibson - Lost In Your Eyes
    35 Natalie Cole - I Live For Your Love
    You don't seem to get balladeer females from America any more, as now they'd be thrown straight at an electro producer.

    34 Luther Vandross - She Won't Talk To Me

    33 Poison - Every Rose Has Its Thorn
    Heavy rock bands doing unironic power ballads, another thing you don't get any more. Good.

    32 Texas - I Don't Want A Lover
    Just starting to show her age, Sharleen - that's not in a bitchy 3am Girls way, it's a fact of nature that her facial complexion is starting to catch up with her biology - tries out country-rock, if you believe a brief use of slide constitutes country elements. Co-founder Johnny McElhone used to be in Hipsway, whose Honey Thief we loved at the time. Of the age, clearly.

    31 Def Leppard - Rocket
    Not a power ballad. We have a suspicion Def Leppard are going to follow Iron Maiden back into wider popularity sooner or later and nobody will recall that half their songs sounded exactly like this.

    30 Inner City - Good Life
    29 Rob Base And DJ E-Z Rock - Get On The Dance Floor
    28 Raze - Break 4 Love
    1988, the year house music arrived on the scene. Top Of The Pops' ban on even mentioning the word 'acid' had already struck, for one. Kevin Saunderson's Inner City project has aged the best, obviously.

    27 Boy Meets Girl - Waiting For A Star To Fall
    Nobody's sampled this for years now! What's up?

    26 Rick Astley - Hold Me In Your Arms
    Although he was never noted in his heyday for his sense of humour, you have to say Rick took the whole Rolling business well - kept his head down when lesser men would have jumped to cash in, expressed the correct amount of bafflement when asked with a hint of scorn when it was taken to extremes, refused to play ball when his label completely missed the point and reissued his Greatest Hits, then finally popped up to put a seal on the whole thing at the Macy's parade. Of course it now transpires he's headlining the next Here And Now tour, so clearly showbiz curiosity has got the better of him. Wonder what Pete 'his voice is comparable to Dusty Springfield's' Waterman made of the phenomenon?

    25 Mica Paris and Will Downing - Where Is The Love?
    Downing was one of those 80s smooth soul brigade much forgotten now largely because they were prone to doing things like duetting with people like Mica Paris, if you get our drift. His biggest hit single was a cover of Coltrane's A Love Supreme. You'd never get that from Kevin Rudolf.

    24 Neneh Cherry - Buffalo Stance
    MIA at the Grammys ripped her style.

    23 Hue And Cry - Looking For Linda

    22 Milli Vanilli - Baby Don't Forget My Number
    So hang on, if it was Frank Farian who sang all the bloke in Boney M's vocals - Farian went on to create Milli Vanilli, keep up - whose was the other male voice in the middle of Rasputin?

    21 Brother Beyond - Be My Twin
    The first video shown on the ITV Chart Show, perhaps the most useless piece of information ever written on STN, and perhaps Blogger as a whole. Poor Brother Beyond. You'd have thought anyone from Worlds Apart to E-Male to Billiam would have become more synonymous with forgettable boy band work, but no such luck.

    20 Samantha Fox - I Only Wanna Be With You
    "In 2009 Fox came third in a poll of the UK's most attractive older lady in Saga (UK) magazine, behind Davina McCall (2nd) and Amanda Redman first." Eat it raw, Mirren!

    19 Will To Power - Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird
    Nietzschen named, borderline ludicrous soft soul medley that somehow is less successfully committed than Big Mountain's version of the former. And Freebird?!

    18 Adeva - Respect
    And yes, here's another Big Future International Homegrown Soul Star who after a couple of singles turned out to be nothing of the sort, in retrospect because Respect, and it is that Respect, was never suited to a light house treatment.

    17 Erasure - Crackers International EP
    The one with Stop! on. Music to throw your arms about while dancing in a circle to.

    16 Kylie And Jason - Especially For You
    Somewhere along the line it became an accepted truth that they'd gone out for quite a while, after years of denial by both parties. Maybe they thought angels would die if they admitted it.

    15 Sheena Easton - The Lover In Me
    Sheena comebacks used to be regular affairs, but there's been little sight of her since the BBC-followed abortive attempt at the start of this decade which essentially consisted of her going "look at me being a gay icon here!" repeatedly.

    14 Then Jericho - Big Area
    With twenty years' experience it's hard to really add anything to bands who sound like this, except to wonder whether ProTools production really is that bad.

    13 Simply Red - It's Only Love

    12 Michael Ball - Love Changes Everything
    Seaside Wurlitzer favourite from pre-Watson blue eyed light 'opera' housewives' choice. Lloyd Webber, natch.

    11 Yazz - Fine Time
    We'd rather sing along with AM, FM, all that jazz. The video is only worth considering to note the stovepipe hat of the jaunty keyboard player.

    10 Fine Young Cannibals - She Drives Me Crazy
    Acrobats, clowns, men in black and white suits, you remember. Roland Gift was always supposed to be this great singer/actor crossover, but Tim Booth harboured similar aspirations.

    9 Bobby Brown - My Prerogative
    Is it fair to say Britney's cover of this was her recording low point, given her prerogative was still to fail even greater?

    8 Ten City - That's The Way Love Is
    Chicago house not to be confused with Ten Sharp, who did piano ballad You in 1992.

    7 Robert Howard And Kym Mazelle - Wait!
    Dr Robert and Big Future International Homegrown Soul Star in early attempt at co-opting house style.

    6 Morrissey - Last Of The Famous International Playboys
    He of the inventive vinyl stack pays Krays... tribute? Cautionary tale telling? Who ever knows with Mozza's ever changing moods. Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce and Craig Gannon all played on it.

    5 Roachford - Cuddly Toy
    "Cuddly Toy, man! Tune of the eighties!" Thus spake a comfortably refreshed Liam Gallagher, according to John Harris, in a hotel bar immediately prior to the celebrated Wibbling Rivalry interview.

    4 Holly Johnson - Love Train
    Holly's solo career took off like a rocket with this and Fairlight-friendly American culture tickling Americanos and then completely collapsed, apparently over label difficulty. Green screen alert:

    3 Roy Orbison - You Got It
    He'd just died having finished a post-Travelling Wilburys album, including an early example of "young Mr Bono says he has a song for you here". More sentiment driving this than all round quality, produced by Jeff Lynne as all huge sounding records by elder statesmen were at this time, but it's better than all but the "Mercy!" bit of Oh Pretty Woman.

    2 Mike And The Mechanics - The Living Years
    The worst record ever made.

    1 Marc Almond Featuring Gene Pitney - Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart
    One of the many, many singers to have collapsed backstage and been rushed to hospital for a vivid stomach pump meets Mr Forget To Mime On This Morning for a spectacular mismatch of vocal power. Nick Cave covered it a couple of years previously. Maybe that's where Almond got the idea from.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Sky's the limit

    Only half in jest, we suspect, Sky Larkin's co-manager (hello, Anna) was recently heard complaining that several reviewers had attempted to draw comparisons between Sky Larkin's newly minted debut album The Golden Spike and Sleeper. Especially the NME review, which spent pretty much its entire length going "they're not like Sleeper!" until, Derren Brown-like, the two band names became interchangeable in the reader's mind. You can kind of see why - power indie-pop, female vocals that aren't especially ballsy nor girly-girl - but it doesn't behove any of us to think that's anywhere near what there is here.

    It's been a long time in coming, The Golden Spike, honing their sound and approach while members went through further education. In fact, we first wrote about them just gone three years ago - we were still trying to find our writing metier then, clearly - when they were nothing more than a few demos and a couple of blog supporters to the good. Indeed, by the end of 2006 they were being voted the best band in the whole of the land. It's promise this album fulfils, as while you'll hear connections - there's a definite hands across the ocean to the female-fronted spiky confidence of a Throwing Muses, Sleater-Kinney or Breeders - it's rare that Britain comes out with a band who tread as far from the stock arrogance setting of the last fifteen years yet retain the tunnel vision to know that this is the right way of doing things, short, sharp electric shocks of sugar rush power trio alt-rock with quirks, twists and no small amount of charm. Witness how opener Fossil, I constantly builds, peaks and rushes, Katie Harkin's voice engaging in its own forthright but warm way. Octopus 08 alternately chimes and forces its way forward, Nestor Matthews' flailingly precise drumming to the fore, while Matador...

    ...prefers to work by stealth through force of habit and Geography discusses nature versus science over power chords and a particularly insistent rhythm section. Beeline, not a bad thing on its own as a single, sounds all the more pointed in this company.

    And yes, some of these songs have been around as demos for as long as we've known them, but they just go to show up the band's own compositional skills. There's a widespread assumption that John Goodmanson's production has roughed up some sort of identikit smoothness, and his influence certainly betrays a high tension wiriness, but with the likes of the insistently emotional Molten, Korg rollercoaster Keepsakes and the skyscraping Somersault it was there all along, just now with more defined guitar tones. Summit, another songs that's been around for a little while, gains wind tunnel guitars to add to its renewed sense of purpose. (In fact, most of the poor reviews we've seen seem to suggest it's because the record betrays no ambition towards radio friendly arena ticket shifters. You know, like guitar bands used to be. When this became such a bad thing to be would require more resources than we have at our disposal) What The Golden Spike achieves is taking the root blocks of some slightly out of fashion influences and sharpening them up for something that stands out in its own realm.

    Which, unfortunately, is not the case, gleefully skipping genres, for M Ward's sixth album Hold Time, released next Monday. Ward's last album Post-War was an eclectic joy, sticking to its John Martyn/John Fahey/gospel soul foundations but extending into an intimate, complex reflection that neither belittled nor settled for the easy way out. Then he ran off with Zooey Deschanel and made the She & Him album of last year, more commercial than anything he's ever done, Deschanel's voice fine for purpose in a mini-Loretta Lynn sense and served for equal purpose by Ward's tasteful US radio playlist arrangements, a passing attraction but not one made for exerting the best out of either party.

    A lot of Hold Time sounds like Ward hasn't quite got over the crossover possibilities of She & Him either. Never Had Nobody Like You has been chosen as the first single, which is fair comment given it sounds committee targeted for FM country-rock (Deschanel on noticeable backing vocals) that doesn't go anywhere despite Ward's warm, lived in vocals. At times, as with Jailbird and Shangri-La, you get the feeling that this is nothing others aren't doing, and given the way Post-War stood out with its incisive meditations and near constant desire to escape from acoustic normality that's a real letdown. Johnny Cash echoes? Grand Old Opry? Gram Parsons? They're all here and all ticked off like an alt-country for beginners bingo card.

    And why is it really such a letdown? Because he proves elsewhere, frustratingly so it has to be said, that he still has the foresightedness to show he's not resigned to being "the bloke off that album with that actress". For Beginners sounds like classic Ward updated with its homely, lived-in, consensual vocals and smart hooky fingerpicked guitar work over bed of synthesised handclaps and keyboards. Jason Lytle guests on To Save Me and it sounds like an insistent blues Grandaddy - Just Like The Fambly Cat Grandaddy rather than Sophtware Slump Grandaddy, but it's a start - and Stars Of Leo takes off halfway through into Wilco territory with symphonic bells and folk-rock transcending shapes. Epistemology is the track that most improves with listening, Ward's folk-soul croon against a wall of uneventful strings briefly suggesting positivism becomes him. The title track shifts regally across an unearthly string bed and then if anything ends just as it's about to burst into technicolour life, evidently in the belief that what we really need now is an unbecoming trad arrangement of Buddy Holly's Rave On. Ward has never been averse to a reconstituting cover version, but Don Gibson's Oh Lonesome Me, a duet with Lucinda Williams, just drags for six potentially endless minutes. Outro is a really interesting instrumental piece of Calexico recalling dusty scene-setting, full of twanging Morricone guitars and atmospheric strings, but it's the last track and by then it's a bit too late for working out the roadmap to some place else.

    Don't get us wrong, M Ward has always sounded out of time, whether on four track lo-fi or with the high expectations placed upon Hold Time. Often writing about someone making music that seems out of time and place, including in Ward's previous case, is a recommendation, taking well worn styles and reinvigorating them to say something for us here. On Hold Time it feels like mere regression.

    Ah well. Here's that title track in visual form:

    Monday, February 09, 2009

    Generic title for post featuring mp3s by largely new bands

    So we've been snowed under in the last couple of weeks with CDs and mp3s, as any rightful blog should, and have only just emerged demanding oxygen having pared down to the very best of them. And a lot of good stuff has come to the fore too, so there'll be another mp3 post next week, but for the time being, and still on Sendspace for server reasons we can't work out:

    Do you remember Distophia? They were a discordantly lo-fi Birmingham outfit whose 2003 mini-album Soda Lake attracted fervent support from the underground as was and whose 2007 album Beat Dyslexia attained proper mythical properties by dint of never bein released due to label/band problems, although we understand it's now on various download services. Three of them have now reformed as Calories, and they do actually get to release an album, Adventuring, via our compadres Smalltown America on 9th March. The noise of Sonic Youth, the hidden melodies of Seafood, the twists of Pavement, the everything of their mates Johnny Foreigner... it's all going on and it works.
    Calories - Adventuring

    The Gullivers, a trio on record now swelled to four from rock city Bicester, are big on making nothing out of something, by which we mean they take the tools other use to send their songs well over the production top - yearning vocals, shimmering delayed guitars, general English wet weather melancholy - and contract them into these small boxes of glacier-like stately movement. It never reaches the really intense levels their clear influences from The National and Joy Division suggest because it feels it has enough about it already not to need it.
    The Gullivers - Neptune

    Sheffield's Screaming Maldini will never want to deal with us again if we mention that the start of one of their Myspace songs reminds us of Alphabeat, but we're not in this to make friends. No, we're in this to share good new music with you. They may call it prog-pop but this, La Roux, is what we understand out here by 80s-style pop - it doesn't really hark back to that era at all, but its free flowing melody and inventive layering make it stand out in territory they could if they tread very carefully mark out as their own.
    Screaming Maldini - The Extraordinary

    Hailie from Boca Chica, who we recommended on here a while back, emailed to tell us about The Key Party presents.. 'Playing Favorites', a compilation of the interconnected parts of the Pittsburgh scene. Our pick is Lohio, a six piece somewhere around Ziggy Stardust Bowie, Sparklehorse, the New Pornographers and the Gillian Welch & David Rawlings end oof alt-country.
    Lohio - Sea And The Sun

    Lostmusic Records are releasing a series of 7"s early this year, the first of which features the Phillipines' Moscow Olympics on one side and on the other Stockholm's The Morning Paper, who bring us drums from the Mary Chain, guitars from Slowdive and pleasing ethereality.
    Morning Paper - Always Real

    Sunday, February 08, 2009

    The new breed

    Time to delve back into the Myspace addresses we've been sent, happened across or just received through osmosis to pick out the best bands you might have heard of vaguely but really want to know how someone who has a talent for overdescription would make of them.

    We've featured a lot of Glasgow bands recently; we've featured a few Edinburgh bands recently. A band who contain members from both, then surely, would be the greatest thing ever committed to tape. Boycotts don't manage that, damn their hides, but while we've learnt from experience to tread carefully around bands who have members called Stina Twee, Josef K and Hardcore Dave (on loan from Scooter, presumably) here is the Scottish answer to a question rarely asked but to which the answer is Sky Larkin, all wiry guitars and razor sharp interplay calling back the Throwing Muses and Breeders as pat comparisons. The main difference is Stina's certain vocal ballsiness and character while behind her is the sort of compressed control that might threaten to give angular indie dancefloor art-rock its good reputation back. While we're near Edinburgh, let's stop off and acknowledge Molly Wagger, an eight-piece who like compatriots Broken Records know their way round an explosively widescreen sonic window and like other compatriots Meursault make a point of integrating electronic noisescapes with traditional songsmithery. Of the songs currently up Bait is hypnotic, Weight woodily aerated and Molly builds itself up stealthily in a manner not too far from Beta Band territory, and there's comfortably enough about them all to justify keeping a close eye as after a little while labouring under 'best kept secrets' tags they could be about to leap the chasm into wider approval if they get their proper recordings just right.

    From the far north to the very south and Superhet Receiver, another band who've thought long and hard about how to infuse post-punk's remnants with electronic elements. It does kind of sound like a lot of things done recently but there's something infectious and tunnel vision focused about these liquid riffs, syncopated beats and Korg abuse, in the same ballpark as Soulwax's first album or more contemporarily Post War Years. It could go either way from here as the saleability of the whole juddery guitar dance thing collapses around us but these should have enough to distance themselves from such dregs. Coming at it from a whole different angle, Nottingham based Alright The Captain are an instrumental outfit who switch-hit from Man...Or Astroman? on heat fuzzed out surf to twisted funk to stylised angular heaviness. Something for everyone who likes having their cerebral cortexes turned inside out while they wait.

    Onto folk and suchlike. Ivan Campo are a Preston trio, big on well kept acoustics and shakers, whose take on the new New Acoustic Movement tends towards the modernities of Tunng and Adem rather than the more traditional end. The Coral also turn up on their influences list (mind you, so does David Soul) and there's more than a little of their amiable dialled down backwoods moments that they really don't exert too much of these days, against quietly charming minuets of love, loss and confusion. Plus they claim to be from 'Isle of Campodia', and bands who claim to be from made up places are always winners to us. While we're in a downhome frame, Bark Cat Bark is the nom de avant of Yorkshire born, Paris based Josh Todd, whose instruments played list includes albokas, banduras, bombardes, flumpets, gayageums, hydraulophones, kanteles, kavals, kemenches, khenes, kinnors, kokyus, phonofiddles, rebecs and xaphoons. Yeah, alright, we get the idea. His largely instrumental works are naggingly pretty works based largely around central piano or violin figures and the reedy woodwinds, wind instruments and who knows what else that slot in around it. There's Beirut, A Hawk And A Hacksaw and Final Fantasy here, also of course band names for multi-instrumentalist young sensations, but there's many classical aesthetic allusions upon which we wouldn't know where to start.

    Italians do it better, so the label name claims, so let's finish this round-up with a couple. Vancouver might be shoegaze without the effects pedal play, or they might be a Europeanised Death Cab For Cutie, or on Jennifer they might be the Killers with the grandiosity and reaching for arena approval taken out and replaced with a very melancholic storytelling bent, an emotional reaction circling a melodic invention. Luca Oliveri meanwhile is in the business of imaginary instrumental soundtracks, building atmospheres from keyboard flourishes and stately waltzes partly aided by off-pop instrumentation. Someone is credited on the press release with 'breaths'. We hope that's not merely something lost in translation.

    Saturday, February 07, 2009

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Animal Collective - My Girls [YouTube]
  • Buenos Aires - Waking Up To A Dream [Myspace] (This blog gets more parochial by the month, we know, but there's a lot of excitement round here about these teens crossthreading Glassjaw and Minus The Bear, and we thought we should share some of that excitement with you, world)
  • Brakes - Hey Hey [YouTube]
  • Dananananaykroyd - Black Wax [Myspace]
  • Emmy The Great - First Love [YouTube]
  • Esiotrot - Tammy Is Lez [Myspace] (From a new split double A-side with Foxes!, of whom more...)
  • Fleet Foxes – Mykonos [Myspace]
  • Foxes! - Oh Rosie [Myspace] (
  • Gun Outfit - Your Will [demos downloadable from here] (Also on Rough Trade Counter Culture 08. They're from Olympia, which is why they sound a bit like Beat Happening, but also a bit like the Meat Puppets and a bit like Times New Viking, and they're on the label run by one of No Age)
  • Jeremy Warmsley - If He Breaks Your Heart (acoustic) [Myspace] (This version is coming out as a free download single on Valetine's Day. In other Warmsley news he's putting on a Heartbreak Ball all-dayer at the Slaughted Lamb EC1V on 15th February at which he'll be joined by Johnny Flynn, Slow Club, Gossamer Albatross, A Classic Education and Stars Of Sunday League, he's recording a new EP called The Ragged Choir, "an orchestra-fuelled 6-track continuous narrative about two kids who find a magic world in their back garden", he's started a side project with regular sideman and 33.3% of Three Trapped Tigers (and 20% of Emmy The Great) Tom Rogerson which will apparently be "kind of gay french house meets church music meets shoegaze", and he's received a communique from a stripper in Portland who dances to 5 Verses. Not our words, readers, his.)
  • Mitchell Museum - Warning Bells [Myspace]
  • Muddy Suzuki - Chorus Tortoise [Myspace]
  • The Phantom Band - The Howling [mp3 from The Stu Reid Experiment]
  • Post War Years - Whole World On Its Head [Myspace]
  • Pulled Apart By Horses - I Punched A Lion In The Throat [live YouTube]
  • Suburban Kids With Biblical Names - 1999 [Myspace]
  • Telepathe - Can't Stand It [Myspace]
  • Those Dancing Days - Those Dancing Days [YouTube]
  • The Walkmen - In The New Year [YouTube]
  • The Voluntary Butler Scheme - Multiplayer [YouTube] (TVBS, along with The Miserable Rich, the New Cassettes, Nizlopi and some others, are involved with Almost There, an attempt to fuse music and painting by visual artist Joe Simpson, who's created twelve original artworks and commissioned twelve original songs from twelve artists to go alongside them. There's a video and a Myspace for further previews; the full exhibition runs at Candid Arts Trust, Islington from the 21st of this month until March 1st and then in Sale from April to June)

    And while we don't do new release lists any more, please note that while 9th February is the day when two longtime STN favourites, Emmy The Great and Sky Larkin, both release debut albums - we can only assume the snow affected the community party planning - but out this week came Andrew Bird's long player plus the annual joy and realisation of how little we actually know of new music that is Rough Trade Counter Culture 08 and the properly fantastic Future Of The Left live album Last Night I Saved Her From Vampires.
  • Friday, February 06, 2009

    The Music That Made... Napoleon IIIrd

    Few have made debut albums that have emerged out of nowhere so fully formed as In Debt To, a collage of home-made fractured alt-pop songs taken down avenues alt-pop songs don't usually go down. It was our number four album of 2007, and it was made by Wakefield resident James Mabbett trading as Napoleon IIIrd. On 16th February he returns with Hideki Yukawa, a seven track download only EP exhibiting what he's been brewing up since ahead of a second album set for the autumn. Once again it sweeps aside all notion of keeping to one idea, as it switches from quasi-garage rock to drum loop-aided fervency to digital Prince to ambient post-rock to Talk Talk minimal balladry. Not only a more than intriguing demonstration of where things are heading, but far more than exciting demonstration of his range and skill in itself. High time we grilled Mabbett in the only way we currently know how, then:

    First single bought: I'm not sure what the first single I bought was. Although I do remember telling my Dad that I wanted to buy the Jive Bunny single only to be told that I should listen to the original songs instead.
    First album bought: Hotel California by the Eagles
    First gig voluntarily attended: The Presidents of the USA in Wolverhampton
    The record that most made you want to get into music: I started playing the guitar when I was 6 and loved the Beach Boys at that point, but I also used to mime along to Dire Straits in the back of my parent's car using a hairbrush.
    The three headliners at a festival you were curating: Tom Waits, Devo and Lee Perry.
    A song not enough people know about but everyone should hear: Hyper Kinako - Tokyo Invention Registration Office
    A song you'd play to get people dancing: LCD Soundsystem - Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
    The last great thing you heard: Menomena - Friend And Foe
    Your key non-musical influences: Sitting on the bus listening to other people's conversations.
    Your favourite new artist: I'm enjoying Friendly Fires and I also bloody love Sky Larkin, but they've both been around for ages right?

    The Napoleon IIIrd live experience is on tour with Wild Beasts from 17th February, then has March dates with Damo Suzuki and Yo! Majesty. This is Zebra from the EP:

    And this is Hit Schmooze For Me off In Debt To.