Thursday, November 30, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #30

And so we come to the last step of our adventure. We hope you've enjoyed it, and if you're new to us (and a special hello to today's visitors from Largehearted Boy - yes, you're right, they did misread the tagline), well, why not stop. We're going through end of year/festive gubbins throughout December, as will be outlined tomorrow. Many, many thank yous to everyone who volunteered or was strongarmed into contributing - it literally wouldn't have been plausible without you. We didn't think it possible, but for the time being every last one of the thirty mp3s is still downloadable. Get them while you can. And do you know, with the interest since, we might do this all again soon...

In the meantime there was in our eyes only one way to bring this feature to a shuddering, uncomfortable halt, and that's through the auspices of Colonel Knowledge:

Snoop Dogg - Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None)

Hey there, pop kids, what time is it?

I am, of course, using informal vernacular in order to establish a rapport. I can see perfectly well what time it is, as there is a clock in the bottom right corner of my computer. Modern life, eh? Tremendous stuff and not, as others will erroneously assert, rubbish.

To business. As I understand it, the great and the good of the hip and happening music scene have been asked to vapour on about a particularly important or obscure beat record, thus encouraging any readers to broaden their horizons and get a bit of voguish alternative pop down their necks. All well and good, of course, and the boys and girls at Sweeping the Nation are to be lauded for this noble undertaking.

Lord alone knows what I'm doing here, perhaps Stevie Malkmus was visiting Flamingoland this week and they were desperate. Whatever, I have plumped for the sweet, soulful sounds of Snoop Dogg (nee Doggy Dogg) and his upbeat bopper Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None).

I'm sure anyone with the faintest interest in music will be familiar with the modus operandi of the Doggfather. Essentially, his prime concerns are shooting chaps, cussing, smoking cannabis reefers, buying expensive motor cars and informing all and sundry of what an excellent fellow he is, taking particular care that everyone is full aware of how to spell his name.

All capital stuff, who wouldn't like that kind of thing? Particularly when hip-hop svengali and production genius Dr Dre is behind the mixing desk, laying down beats that those in the know regularly describe as "fat" or "dope".

Well, there is one small fly in the ointment. A lot of your rapping fellows, and Snoop in particular, have a rather rum attitude to the fairer sex. Whereas you or I choose to romance a girl, buy her chocolates or flowers, while always being respectful and treating her very much as an equal, Snoop and his fellow Dogg Pound homies see things a little differently.

This is exhibited best in the track under discussion, wherein Snoop and three of his pals enact a sort of 4 x 100m of misogyny, passing the microphone much in the style of an Olympic sprinter passing a baton. While many of the sentiments expressed here are clearly reprehensible, they do provide an insight into a particular state of mind.

Also, there is some tremendous swearing in there. Ready, steady, go!

First up is Nate Dogg, addressing his remarks to a female with whom he has recently got lucky. However in the cold light of day, a sea-change in his outlook has taken place.

"When I met you last night baby
Before you opened up your gap
I had respect for ya lady
But now I take it all back"

While this decrease in his esteem is regrettable, our Nate is nothing if not a pragmatist. He remembers the physical nature of their relationship and is willing to maintain contact with this good-time girl.

"Cause you gave me all your pussy
And ya even licked my balls
Leave your number on the cabinet
And I promise baby, I'll give you a call"

With a strong starting leg getting the homies off to a flying start, it's over to Kurupt to take it down the back stretch and inject a note of fiscal prudence, wisely noting

"Well, if Kurupt gave a fuck about a bitch I'd always be broke
I'd never have no motherfuckin indo to smoke"

Indo is apparently an american brand of loose tobacco, proving that some men prefer a good shag to, erm, a good shag. Kurupt's rather prosaic, functional attitude to the ladies continues as he further states

"I'm through with it, there's nothing else to do with it
Pass it to the homie, now you hit it
Cause she ain't nuthin but a bitch to me
And y'all know, that bitches ain't shit to me"

Kurupt seems to be a troubled young man, who, I feel, will probably soften his stance when he meets the right girl. However, the moment the crowd have been waiting for has arrived as the main man Ess-enn-double-o-pee takes the mic and hits top speed immediately with perhaps the most beautiful rhyming couplet to have been coined since Shakespeare was a shorty.

"Guess who's back in the motherfuckin' house?
With a fat dick for your motherfuckin' mouth"

A fat dick for your motherfuckin' mouth! Hats off, sir, that is undoubtedly the stuff to give 'em. Now there's a phrase you can roll around your mouth like a fine old port, eh? A bit of spin on the ball there and no mistaking.

Anyhow, the Snoopster develops the themes raised by Kurupt and sounds a warning for any young homie who may be getting entangled with an unsuitable damsel, particularly one who is wont to "pull a voodoo", whatever that may be.

"Hoes recognize, niggaz do too
Cuz when bitches get scandalous and pull a voodoo
What you gonna do? You really don't know
So I'd advise you not to trust that hoe"

Having opened his legs and shown his class, the rest of the field trailing in his wake, Snoop hands it over to Warren G to power down the home straight with some considered remarks regarding his much-loved reefers, his expensive vehicle, his gun and his compliant female companion.

"So back up bitch cuz i'm strugglin,
so get on your knees and then start jugglin
these motherfuckin nuts in your mouth
It's me, Warren G, the nigga with the glock"

And on that rather weak closing rhyme the record concludes and we listeners are left to reflect on what has taken place. We've shaken our thangs to Dr Dre's excellent P-funk grooves, we've shuddered at the callous, neanderthal attitudes of our four vocalists, we've been awestruck at Snoop's virtuoso potty-mouthery, but most of all we have resolved to try out that whole "getting your balls licked" thing mentioned in verse two. That's sure to be good.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "It Ain't No Fun", a record that will make you think, challenge your attitudes and enhance your bedroom bump and grind regime.

Who, I say who, could ask for more?

I'll bid you good day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing Bootleg Edition

Having pitched in his effort too late to us, the great Stuart Campbell's gone and uploaded it to his own site anyway

Songs To Learn And Sing #29

Our penultimate volunteer putting their head in the lion's mouth of musical tract can be read all over the place where there's interest in British popular culture, most immediately in our blogging spehere of reference The Memorex Years, TJ Worthington:

35 Summers - Really Down

1991 was not a good time to be in a British indie band. With the music press turning on the 'indie-dance' sound as Last Year's Thing and realigning their attentions towards the more unwashed and less interesting sounds drifting over from across the Atlantic, it was hard enough for the likes of Happy Mondays and The Charlatans to get by, let alone such second division acts as Airhead, The Dylans, The Milltown Brothers and Paris Angels, who generally found themselves either ridiculed or ignored by the NME and Melody Maker and ultimately by the general indie-orientated record-buying public. Candyland, Candy Flip, The Candyskins and any other bands with 'candy' in their name were not going to be ascending to megastardom, no matter how hard their record companies may have pushed them. Needless to say it was the snobby and elitist fashion-conscious music 'fans' who were missing out on this occasion, something that is reflected by the dizzying second-hand prices such bands command nowadays.

35 Summers were even more unfortunate than most, as they were one of a small group of bands who had the misfortune to be saddled with the ungainly monicker 'Scallydelic'. All of the bands that found this label slapped upon them - which included the The Real People, Rain, Top, The Tambourines, Pele, The Stairs and River City People - had only three vague factors in common; a closer geographical proximity to Liverpool than to Manchester, a mild passing interest in a certain sport involving two teams of eleven players, and a tendency towards dance-tinged jangly guitar pop that fell somewhere between the brilliance of The La's and the uneven-ness of The Farm.

Judging from their meagre recorded output, 35 Summers - vocalist Dave Pichilingi, guitarists Ian Greenwood and Duncan Lomax, bassist Robby Fay, keyboard player Jamie Southern and drummer Alan Curry - were definitely leaning towards the La's end of the scale, and although nobody deserves to be bundled in with such a shabby, ill-concieved and non-existent (not to mention ridiculously named) pretend genre as 'Scallydelic', at the end of the day they really only had themselves to blame by making their footballing craziness explicit with a top-selling t-shirt bearing the image of famed Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly. In an age when many indie bands were reputed to be shifting more t-shirts than actual records, this highly popular item of long-sleeved fashionwear did much to build 35 Summers' profile, but also ended up slightly obscuring the fact that they also made rather good music. All the same, this particular t-shirt had the unsual distinction of being inadvertently captured for posterity on film on two seperate occasions - Peter Hooton is seen wearing one in the Harry Cross Out Of Brookside-equipped video for The Farm's Groovy Train, while from a slightly more enduringly watchable perspective, John Peel also sports the accidentally iconic garment while lurking backstage at the 1991 Reading Festival during Blur's fascinating tour film Starshaped.

35 Summers' first release, on a small independent label, was a suitably spaced-out reworking of The Beatles' Come Together (think along the same lines as The Soupdragons' I'm Free, The Farm's (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone and Candy Flip's Strawberry Fields Forever, along with any of the several hundred other sixties covers done by any of several hundred other indie-dance bands, and you're probably halfway there already), bolstered by spoken word samples from the bizarre but self-explanatory long-player Shankly Speaks. On the strength of this they managed to secure a deal with RCA, for whom they would record and release two singles in 1991 - I Won't Try and Really Down.

Unveiled as part of a Peel session in August 1991, Really Down begins with the singer stating that "self-indulgence, it's a favourite past-time of mine". If it really honestly genuinely was, then you wouldn't know it from this song as the lyrics are an economical, heartfelt and utterly non-self-indulgent evocation of, well, feeling a little bit down in the dumps for no obvious reason, with the chorus complaining - with a possible hint of exaggeration - that "I must be the most unhappy man in the world". There's also a spot of rumination on inarticulacy, or to be more accurate the inarticulacy of others, complaining of how "no-one else seems to take the time to write the lines to express how I really feel". It's a bit of a puzzling complaint given that the lyrics seem to achieve this aim perfectly well by themselves, but not as puzzling as the fact that this lyrical theme seemed to be so common to so many indie-dance bands, and to The Mock Turtles in particular. Did they all think that someone else should be writing their lyrics for them?!?

Musically, Really Down is anything but down in the dumps. Dominated by a bright chord progression, ringing guitars, sparkling harmonies and what sounds like an accordian hiding away in the background somewhere, it's a catchy and upbeat pop song and its only flaw is that the sturdy rhythm section isn't really pushed to the fore, only really coming into its own in a section where the arrangement momentarily strips down to vocals and drums. The standard single edit of the song was joined on its various formats by an 'Extended Version', surely one of the last relics of the days when a 12" Mix simply meant doubling the length of the instrumental bits, and a 'Club Remix' by long-forgotten DJ team The Sound Foundation. The latter should theoretically have put right the minor problems of the original mix, but unfortunately it ends up suffering from exactly the opposite problems - while the remixers make the most of the rhythm section, they also jettison much of the structure and charm of the song itself.

Really Down had all the makings of a summery pop hit, particularly in the indie-friendly summer of 1991, but like all of 35 Summers' releases it didn't make much of an impression on the charts. Not even a reasonable amount of radio support and tours with the fairly highly profiled Northside and the extremely highly profiled EMF seemed to be enough to propel their releases into the lower reaches of the top forty, although the failure of Really Down is perhaps slightly more comprehensible than that of I Won't Try; the song's title is hardly prominent in the lyrics, which almost always seems to impede chart progress for some reason, and whereas the earlier singles had boasted a vaguely pyschedelic pastel-stroke-citrus hued design, the sleeve bears a semi-religious, semi-militaristic and wholly pretentious 'weeping statue' image that hardly suggests that catchy upbeat pop music might be lurking inside.

Sadly, both the lyrics and the off-puttingly maudlin sleeve of Really Down proved to be depressingly propetic for 35 Summers. To accompany the release of the single, they had attempted to replicate the success of the earlier Shankly t-shirts by producing a similar one featuring Leonard Rossiter in full-on Rigsby from Rising Damp mode. Yorkshire Television objected to what was essentially unauthorised use of their copyrighted image for commercial purposes, and the usual legal sabre-rattling resulted in a settlement that, perhaps predictably, was hardly exactly in the band's favour. Following this, their relationship with RCA worsened, and after their lone album Sketch was shelved, 35 Summers called it a day. Needless to say, the original single is now worth a relative absolute fortune, but unless you're particularly desperate to own the Club Mix and Extended Version, Really Down can be easily obtained on a belated Japanese issue of Sketch, and on the fourth volume of's (cough) 'semi-official' compilation series The Sound Of Leamington Spa.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #28

Another one for the lineup of the songs luminaries feel you must hear, and today, just because we like his style, as little as it has to do with music, and he was willing and available, Brig Bother:

Kings Have Long Arms feat. Phil Oakey - Rock And Roll is Dead

I was quite surprised to be asked to write something for this prestigious series. After all, I'm not really very "indie". I used to be, but then I realised how bored I was getting of blokes with stupid haircuts and an English literature/politics/communication studies degree picking up a guitar and writing dirgey songs about how rubbish their life is because they can't be bothered to get a job and/or laid, taking themselves far more seriously that anybody else is going to. I was also slightly annoyed that Doug from episode 6 had subconsciously nicked my intro with his My Life Story entry. What WOULD I like to promote? The amazing Alexander Bard based pop shenanigans of Bodies Without Organs? Something of the first two albums from Cursor Minor? Common People by William Shatner? Something a bit more obvious?

No, don't worry reader, if you're still here, I'm about to get to my point.

All the way back in 2003 I was dragged along to see Elbow or I Am Kloot (I forget which), because the tickets were cheap, it was a night out, and my best mate had nobody else who would go with him. It was after work, I was knackered. Come seven o'clock there were about ten people at the venue. We were sitting on the floor, waiting.

And then the first support act came on. I was expecting guitar based indie. Instead, I got a fat Yorkshireman in a bucket hat and sunglasses and a synthesiser player in a gorilla costume. Well, my interest was piqued. We were still sitting down, which in retrospect was a bit rude really. So frontman Adrian Flanagan chided us, got off the stage and pulled us up mid-song.

The songs were of a rather minimalist electronic pop vibe, but sharply written and amusing. Adrian's the real star though, lending the whole operation a rather whimsical Phoenix Nights feel. Phoenix Nights meets The Human League. Little did I realise at the time how literal that was going to be - he announced he was going to perform his new single "Rock and Roll is Dead" which Phil Oakey has lent his vocals to, and if Phil Oakey likes them then what's not to like?

The song itself is a rather poppy but cold and relentless. He's found time to include a nob gag. And the message sums up my feeling about the current music scene. My friend was absolutely baffled, I thought they were absolutely brilliant. If you quite liked Relaxed Muscle, this is a less dark version, I think.

When I saw The Human League two years ago, Phil "did" 1st Man In Space, his excellent collaboration with All Seeing I. I was secretly hoping that he'd do Rock and Roll Is Dead also, but sadly not. However, looking Kings Have Long Arms up on YouTube reveals that he was singing it on their last tour, so yay Phil. Also up on YouTube is the highly amusing video for Lisa Riley, a song about wanting to marry Lisa Riley.

Years later, and in September 2006 the album finally comes out (which excellently includes videos and a live show DVD). It is mighty, and one day I'll force my friend to sit down to listen to it. I bet he will whinge as well.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #27

Don't think any less of today's contributor of the song that should stand taller because he's not in a band, OK? It's James from Yer Mam!:

Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)

Huddersfield just wasn't for me. I lived there for the nine whole months that made up my first year of university and not once did I warm to the place. Don't get me wrong, the people were perfectly nice and I lived in an area that was in no way hostile, despite the all-night dub parties populated by shady Yardie-looking types that used to happen pretty much every night at the end of my street. Rats loved the house where I lived (mostly down to the questionable hygiene of some of my housemates, I hasten to add), but we never had any trouble.

I just plain didn't take to the place, probably due to the fact that, up until this point, all I had known was Manchester. The year later, I took to commuting and did so for the rest of my time there. Train journeys, no matter how short, can often take on a surreal, vaguely magical feel. For instance, there's this really long tunnel between Huddersfield and Manchester (somewhere around Greenfield, if I remember correctly) that can be kind of disorientating, especially if the lighting on the train isn't up to scratch. Your eyes get accustomed to the strange, dim half-light and then, all of a sudden, on leaving the tunnel, it's natural daylight again. On those clear, bright winter days, when the sun seems to be about five times brighter than it ever is during the summer, this sudden re-entry into daylight can leave you blinking and rubbing your eyes, seeing spots and feeling woozy. On one of these winter days, just before the train entered the tunnel, I had been admiring the millions of crystals of frost strewn about the lush, green fields of, er, Greenfield. Again, clear blue sky, bright yellow sun, not a cloud to be seen. On leaving the tunnel, imagine my surprise to see a thick layer of pure, white snow, covering the Yorkshire countryside. That's how long this tunnel was.

Anyway, during that first year, my frequent journeys home took on an extra resonance. As I said, I really didn't like the place (a side note: Huddersfield did grow on me over the rest of my time, probably coinciding with the lessening amount of time I actually had to spend there), so when I was heading back to Manchester after a week of bad student nights, bad food and bad vibes (another side note: about 90% of the people on my course didn't like me in the slightest. The only reasons I can think of now as to why they didn't like me are because I wasn't afraid to air my own opinions, opinions that tended to buck the Fresher hive-mind trend, and I was invariably hungover during lectures), the sense of relief and comfort was often overwhelming.

Just as the train departed from Stalybridge (the only stop on the journey), a lyric would pop into my head: "Home is where I want to be/Pick me up and turn me 'round." It was a Pavlovian response, triggered by knowing that I was nearly back in the city I love. I was nearly back in the company of people who tolerated and went along with my contrary, outspoken nature. I was nearly back home. Often I'd only been away from Manchester for five days, but it felt like forever. When the lights of the city came into view, another lyric would pop into my head: "Home is where I want to be/But I guess I'm already there."

Now jump back nine years. My sister is driving back from Bradford, where she went to university. She enjoyed living in Bradford much more than I enjoyed living in Huddersfield, but she still preferred the hustle, bustle and familiarity of good old Manchester. When she saw the 5m sign for Manchester, a lyric would pop into her head: "Home is where I want to be/Pick me up and turn me 'round." She had the same response, nine years earlier. The place we were leaving was different, as was the mode of transport, but the reaction was the same. I learnt this a couple of years ago when talking with my sister about the song in question. In part, I have my sister to thank for introducing me to Talking Heads.

My family, while seemingly pretty generic on the surface, with two boys and two girls, is a little different. There's nothing strange about the three oldest siblings; Janette, the oldest, was born in 1968, my brother, Paul, in 1970 and my sister, Nicola (who later went to Bradford University), a year later, in 1971. Then there's a nine year gap, before I came along in 1980. This fact alone made my childhood an interesting one. At times I felt like an only child, with these three older kids who all had their own things going on, occasionally intruding on my own little world either to impart wisdom, ply me with alcohol or punch me in the arm.

Another, more welcome intrusion was that they'd open my eyes and ears to music that continues to shape my tastes to this day. While other kids were left to find their own way in the often forbidding musical landscape, often choosing to latch on to the safest, most radio-friendly option (Kylie Minogue, Michael Jackson, Jive fucking Bunny), I had a benevolent guiding hand in the shape of my brother and sisters. From the age of about seven, I was exposed to the likes of New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen, The The, Love, Big Audio Dynamite, The Clash and, later, Pixies (fun fact: the first concert I went to was Pixies on the Bossanova tour in 1990, aged 10).

The band that figured most heavily in these wondrous formative years was Talking Heads. I had no idea then that this band were one of the most vital and influential bands of their era, to me it was just music. I had no reference points or even any understanding of why I liked them, I just did. It was the music that I became used to.

I guess this is why This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) is so comforting for me (I suspect my sister attaches different feelings to it). It reminds me of a time when my understanding of how music was formed and how it made me feel, was so unrefined and raw, naïve even. When you're a child and being taught how to play football, you aren't thinking about the politics involved in the game or even the actual rules, you just want to run around, kicking a ball. Hearing this song at a young age, you're going to have a purer reaction to it than you would if you were to hear it at the age of 26, when your tastes are more finely honed. Try as you might to react to a song on a purely primal level, once you get past a certain age, there will always be an element of academia involved in your liking of a certain song.

This Must Be The Place doesn't just make me think of home, it is home. Hearing that childlike, see-sawing melody, with both guitar and bass playing the same role, takes me back to the time that I was discovering music, evoking images of strange album covers (at least strange to me, back then), like Forever Changes, Power, Corruption And Lies, Infected and indeed Speaking In Tongues. It also evokes memories of my siblings when they were young and, sometimes, stupid. I occasionally feel sad that I don't have more memories of this time, because of the nine years between the next youngest and I, but having a song that you can refer to at any time to bring this stuff flooding back is all I need. I'll tell you something else for nothing too, it never, ever reminds me of Huddersfield.

Weekender : save us from mad bears

CHART OF DARKNESS: To nobody's great surprise Take That are number one - only their ninth from 18 singles, a number Westlife (we'll come back to them) would openly scoff at. 61K, it did, which is actually a slight disappointment given it had done 30K by close of play Tuesday. Speaking of sales, Emma Bunton ended up 57 behind Akon for third place. The frontloading of the pack means Girls Aloud and Razorlight re-enter the top ten while the Chili Peppers and The Feeling are willing more to urge on album sales with their lower top 20 entries, below Nelly Furtado's downloads and in the latter's case only one above the download entry of Booty Luv (it's a dance thing - and you thought that dance single sales had collapsed. Oh, no, we did, sorry) Lemar's at 21, Faithless even less inspired than usual (this features Harry Collier from Kubb, but even the album track featuring Cat Power is duff) at 26, Pink's power ballad at 27 and Chamillionaire sneaks in under the wire at 35. As we've mentioned before Weird Al Yankovic's White And Nerdy looks like getting a full release, because of course the kids will know exactly who he is. The horribly titled Lo-Rider Feat. Cumberbatch is at 44, the even sillier monickered Fish Go Deep Feat. Tracey K is a place below but on downloads, which has caught us by surprise. The Fratellis' download entry at 52 is only notable as it's three places below a top 100 re-entry for Chelsea Dagger. We call it Wake Up Boo Syndrome. Oh, and Katherine Jenkins has covered The Green Green Grass Of Home for a top 75 debut at 62. That'll be worthwhile.
Anyone who follows musical trends will know exactly why Westlife beat the field in the album chart battle, of course - they've not been a boy band for years now, selling covers to the James Blunt middle-aged mum market. This is even called The Love Album just to make sure, although surely they could all have been called that. Pitch them against two greatest hits compilations, one with no new material and one which has one new song but from a well anthologised band, and the Beatles' Love which is just a set of new mixes which is surely nobody's idea of a place to start their Beatles collections and it's not hard to deduce the reason. It seems to have been sold as the return to the studio of George Martin rather than a Cirque Du Soleil tie-in, which must be causing some anguish somewhere. 5.1 remastered albums cannot be far away. The top three sold an impressive total of more than 600,000 between them. Curiously, the Fron Male Voice Choir enter at 13. Usually pop-classical acts get no end of vibrant marketing but this is the first we've heard of them. Research tells us that there's going to be a film about them next year, which doesn't help this make any more sense. Track 1 is Sailing! Akon 22, Foo Fighters acoustic live 35, Jools Holland and his horn section 45, Tom Waits' three CD box of oddities (including a cover of Heigh Ho from Snow White And The Seven Dwarves) at 49, the Carpenters' Ultimate Collection at 54 which you'd hope it is as this is their ninth hits compilation and, just to prove that not all publicity is positive publicity, Matt Willis at 66.

FREE MUSIC: While Jenny Lewis scratches her country itch her Rilo Kiley foil Blake Sennett is fronting his own band The Elected. There's an air of 60s California and maybe a twinge of 70s AOR about Not Going Home, from this year's Sun Sun Sun, but the crucial factors that make it still stand out are a) nobody in the band has ever heard of Sean Rowley and b) it's just gloriously melodically dark undercurrent-sunny.

HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: More Swedish gentle goodness in the shape of the DIY home recording approach of Jonkoping's Emil Svanängen, AKA Loney, Dear. Some have compared him to Jose Gonzalez but there's far more going on here, more akin to a warmer Bright Eyes or a stripped down Sondre Lerche, with whom he shares a fragile poetry couched in broken English. The City The Airport, the first track here, even sounds promisingly reminiscent of Broken Social Scene. There's a buzz afoot and his next album has been licensed to Sub Pop in the States, which could just be the hipster breakthrough this sort of thing sounds tailor made for.

VISUAL REPRESENTATION: Thirty years ago this month the Sex Pistols set off on the abortive Anarchy tour. But let's not do them, as support act Buzzcocks are far more interesting and it's nearly the thirtieth anniversary of Spiral Scratch, which was led not by Boredom as everyone thinks but Breakdown. Howard Devoto promptly sensed punk's co-option and left to form the ace Magazine, who got onto Top Of The Pops with Shot By Both Sides - nice casual stance there, Kid Jensen - and onto film through The Light Pours Out Of Me. Nothing left for Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, then, other to make screeds of classic, energetic punk-pop for many an American to get wrong in future years. Bow before your gods, and your low video production costs: What Do I Get, Promises, a live Ever Fallen In Love, Love You More on Peter Cook-helmed ATV sore thumb Revolver and a TOTP Harmony In My Head. Then they split, partly so Pete Shelley could go all early electro on the likes of Homosapien, and reformed on a very regular basis to play Orgasm Addict at festivals and show off Pete's latest unwise hair decision.

FALLING OFF A BLOG: We've linked on the Weekly Sweep to mp3s on Bows + Arrows a couple of times but we do recommend this just turned one year old blog in general. Pavement, M Ward covering Joanna Newsom, Damien Jurado, a competition asking what the Walkmen should cover next, judgement on whether you can sing Monster Mash over the melody of Pull Shapes... there's no real shape to it, but that's something we've always believed makes a good music blog.
Given we've been listening to it regularly we should also get round to tipping the hat to Cross The Pond podcast. They've just made it to show 18, the first seventeen including genuinely interesting chats and often exclusive musical content by and with the Pipettes, Jeremy Warmsley, Emmy The Great, Victorian English Gentlemens Club and the promise in show 19 of Fyfe Dangerfield. Amazingly they've also talked to people we haven't Friendly Chatted with, including Goodbooks (we did put a request in for them, but that's another story), Toby L of Transgressive (and him), Darren Hayman, Absentee, Battle, the Noisettes, Fear Of Flying and the Mules.

EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: Is this all a NME Cool List top placing earns you these days?

IN OTHER NEWS: To counteract the idea that Afroman is releasing a festive LP in the States, a couple more indie labels releasing Christmas albums of new material to add to the roster: Cherryade Records release A Very Cherry Christmas Volume 2 this week, featuring Dawn Of The Replicants' cover of Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time plus The Bobby McGees, ex-Hefnerite Jack Hayter, Beatnik Filmstars, Steveless, Applicants and 16 others. Meanwhile The Best KIDS Christmas Album in the World Ever Ever Ever!!!, released on 11th December, isn't actually a kids' album, although proceeds do go to NSPCC, but a compilation from the Kids label (Wombats, Paul Hartnoll, early iLiKETRAiNS) including said Wombats plus Popular Workshop, Oppenheimer, the Young Playthings, It Hugs Back and sundry unsigned talent.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #26

As we enter the last few weekdays of this feature that if nothing else means we've been able to sit back and let everyone else do the work for us... Actually, tell you what, we had Tom Campesinos! on this feature yesterday and that went down well, so we went and got his band's singer involved too. Gareth Campesinos!:

Bikini Kill - In Accordance To Natural Law

This song is called In Accordance To Natural Law and is by a band called Bikini Kill. It is 28 seconds long. If it was a second longer it would not be perfect. But it's not and it is. It wasn't until not many years ago that I got into the idea of girls playing guitars. I'd visited my friend Hessy for the first time. We were browsing in HMV and she thrust an album at me. I remember thinking it was hideously priced for a collection of just 9 songs. Then she told me the whole album was only 17 minutes long and I nearly choked. But I was pretty much in awe of this girl in the Sonic Youth t-shirt (a GIRL? that likes GOOD MUSIC? woah. It wasn't even that Goo t-shirt that everybody has. And she got it FROM A SHOW!!) so I bought the album and then we went outside and sat on a bench by her bus stop. She smoked menthols and I decided it was time I learnt to smoke. But I never did and she smokes Marlboro Lights now anyways, so it couldn't have been that great. And so she took the CD from my hands and jammed it in her Discman.

She skipped to track 4 and shoved one of the headphones into my ear. What followed in the next half minute is one of those few gaping jaw moments (and that's how long it was. It was merely a moment). I didn't quite realise what I'd heard. I though Hessy had shouted "FUCK OFF!" at me. But it was just the song. In that short space of time, and in what seems like only one breath, a song had said more to me than the entire back catalogue of pretty much any band I had ever listened to before. And I didn't want to be a boy. Boys are rubbish. Boys don't play music like this, they sit in the common room at school, smug, and play Fake Plastic Trees on acoustic guitar. But Hessy was in a band and though I was never allowed to hear them, I just knew they would be awesome. So I guess in a lot of ways, I always just thought of Bikini Kill as being Hester's band.

Now I'm quite sceptical of bands without girls. I mean, how can any band be THAT good if they're so far detached from Bikini Kill that it's just a bunch of sweaty boys with guitars? If you don't like the song, I guess I understand, but at least I've not wasted as much of your time as that Tom Campesinos!

In shops tomorrow: 27/11


Slim pickings this week as everything winds down for extended Christmas breaks. That is, apart from the singles market, with everyone picking the post-Autumn rush/pre-Christmas battle period to either be launched or get a single out of the way. So say hello to the much blogged Cold War Kids, new entrants to the Americana pop-lyricism-as-novella brigade with much Wilco-blues-Buckley promise demonstrated on the We Used To Vacation EP. On this side of the pond Nottingham teenage duo I Was A Cub Scout arrive amid no small amount of ballyhoo themselves for the wistful electronica of Pink Squares, while recent vintage wunderkind Sam Duckworth, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly to you, plucks another single from his not bad actually album, the perhaps more old label emo than necessary War Of The Worlds. No link, but we believe Pagan Wanderer Lu's The Independent Scrutineer EP is out on CD too - of course we had to mention the Songs To Learn And Sing contributor but his messed up indiefolktronica is well worthy of further attention.


If you like cheap compilations, you'll be in hog heaven. Otherwise, we should mention the proper box set version of Sufjan Stevens' Songs For Christmas is out this week with a booklet of short stories, stickers, enhanced elements and "an original Christmas Family Portrait painting of Santa Sufjan (with wife and kids!) by Jacques Bredy". Step your game up, Gallagher!


A couple of old Elvis Costello videos have been given the necessary upgrade - Live: A Case For Song is an extended version of a 1996 Later special alternately featuring the original Attractions, a jazz septet and the Brodsky Quartet, with whom he covers God Only Knows. This was in the wake of their collaboration on The Juliet Letters, of which this is a documentary and live performance.


Anything calling itself "a definitive history of punk" is almost begging to be handled with care, and there doesn't seem to have been a lot around Pretty Vacant by Phil Strongman and Alan Parker, both of whom make great play of having been There At The Time, but we'll see. Let's just quote the synopsis: "the authors have interviewed all the major figures to build up a complete portrait of a remarkable era of change in music and youth culture. Their story features Richard Branson, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, Tony Parsons and many more who took their early steps to fame and fortune around this time. Band members of The Clash, Stranglers, Sex Pistols and many others recall what happened, bringing their story to life with vivid anecdotes and telling detail. It is a book that no true fan of music can afford to be without, for this is the ultimate inside account of punk, told by those who really were there from the beginning."

The Weekly Sweep

  • The Be Be See - You K Gold [YouTube]
  • Blood Red Shoes - You Bring Me Down [YouTube]
  • Brakes - Hold Me In The River [link to video]
  • CSS - Music Is My Hot Hot Sex [mp3 from The Daily Growl]
  • Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds [YouTube]
  • Foals - Balloons [Myspace]
  • Goodbooks - Leni [YouTube]
  • Gruff Rhys - Candylion [YouTube]
  • Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - False Husband
  • The Little Ones - Lovers Who Uncover [mp3 from Rewriteable Content]
  • Los Campesinos! - Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks [Myspace]
  • Lucky Soul - Ain't Never Been Cool [Myspace]
  • Peter Bjorn & John - Up Against The Wall
  • Rose Kemp - Violence [Myspace]
  • The Shins - Phantom Limb [mp3]
  • The Slits - Typical Girls [YouTube]
  • The Small Faces - All Or Nothing [YouTube]
  • Smog - Held
  • Tokyo Police Club - Nature Of The Experiment [YouTube]
  • The Video Nasties - I Wanna [Myspace]
  • Saturday, November 25, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #25

    And we're as close as our detached selves get to being very pleased to say today's song comes from someone who hasn't let a minor detail like his band signing to Wichita records this week stop him from contributing to our collective store of musical experience - Tom, guitarist from the mighty Los Campesinos!:

    Yo La Tengo - Blue Line Swinger, that marvellous invention that allows you to advertise to the world just how many times you've listened to those illegally downloaded songs, whilst simultaneously converting you into the most self-conscious of music listeners, so that if you accidentally leave your iTunes running and return to find your collection of indiest of indie hits has been sullied by that Eurythmics b-side you love, you have to make a new account, informs me that I've listened to Yo La Tengo 649 times. I'm not sure whether I left my music playing while I was out to try and gain indie kudos among internet-goers, or whether that's even a lot of listens in the grand scheme of song-listening, but either way they're my third most listened-to band, and I think that this song epitomises everything that's great about them.

    Now, I've not done a review like this before, but I figure the best way to do it is to take a leaf out of the Pitchfork book of reviews and go all befuddling melodrama, clichés and polysyllabic words on yo' ass, so excuse that, and don't let a little over-excited hyperbole and overuse of the word 'indie' affect your view of this song. I had a discussion a little while ago with Cardiff's Lord of Indie, John Widdop, about Wolf Parade's I'll Believe In Anything and its unrelenting crescendo, how just as you think its reached its peak, it seems to take an extra step up the so-exciting-it-hurts ladder until you think someone's going to fall off and land in a big, messy puddle of Spencer Krug. I think we agreed that it's one of those perfect songs to finish off any mix-tape (or CD in my case); that melodramatic finale that ensures the last track on side B is one elating splash of indie greatness. Anyway, Blue Line Swinger is similar in many respects.

    Clocking in at 9 minutes and 18 seconds, despite stating that it's 3:15 on the album sleeve (the cheeky liars!), Blue Line Swinger is pretty much one long build up and it certainly takes its time in building up. It's a pretty simplistic structure, based around a descending sequence of 4 quivering organ notes that start off proceedings, before Georgia Hubley introduces some disjointed, sporadic tom bashing. Some wailing guitar notes, teetering on the brink of feedback then join the sparse, almost tribal drumming, before settling into a comfortable-ish riff. Somewhere along the line, a bass has joined in to emphasise and fill out the repeating descent, and that's essentially what's brilliant about this song: the 3 1/2 minute segue between the almost random, dislocated drums and melody into a 4/4 drum beat and fixed guitar riff is so smooth that it's almost impossible to notice. Both the drums and guitar seem to hold back from syncopated rhythms for as long as possible, until at 3 minutes 43, you're suddenly aware that the song has settled into something approaching a conventional song, as Ira Kaplan layers some ghostly vocals over the building effervescent cacophony (take that, Pitchfork). From there on, the song just keeps building, each time peaking and then taking an extra step up the so-exciting-it-hurts ladder until someone falls off and lands in a big, messy puddle of Ira Kaplan. Or at least until your speakers are shaking with feedback and Fender Jazzmaster noise solos.

    It's a truly awesome song that I can't get tired of hearing and every time I listen it feels far shorter than the 9:18 it claims, but it's always a brilliant way to spend 10 minutes of your life. I even stood under the cavernous nostrils of Kaplan at a recent gig in Cardiff so that I could beleaguer him with requests for this song, to which, having just played an epic version of I Heard You Looking, he eventually told me I was 'insane'. In a post-gig, fan-boy, 'will-you-sign-my-setlist?' chat with the man, I then discovered that they rarely play the song live. He did remember one occasion they had done though, 'just to prove we could play it', in New York at Hanukkah where Yo La Tengo do a run of shows. I was a little gutted to hear that I'd missed that show, but basically, if I ever happen to be in that city when the Festival of Lights comes around, I hope to be staring up at those same nostrils, shouting the title of this song in the vague direction of these fine, fine musicians.

    Friday, November 24, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #24

    Going quickly, isn't it? Next up to offload their suggestion of essential listening is one of our favourite solo singers of the moment, and we're not just saying that because she quotes us on her homepage, the decidedly singular Emmy The Great:

    Noah And The Whale - Death By Numbers

    Charlie is very funny he makes me laugh, he asks me to make him toast and I burn it and then he eats it anyway cause he is a scab and he can't afford to buy his own bread. His fingernails are very dirty like he has been playing with mud but he hasn't it's his natural dirtiness. That often puts people off but you have to give him a chance and let his terrible personality put you off instead.

    Charlie is in my band and I am in his band. I realise that this makes this choice of song somewhat unethical but I have nothing to do with it, I barely even like the fellow. It is a good song though. The first time I heard it was in a rehearsal and I said "why did you come up with the number 5000." He looked smug and he said "it's all very considered, you wouldn't understand." Later when he wasn't looking I put a dirty tissue in his satchel, because no matter how good you are at writing songs, there really is no need to be smug.

    Recently charlie has written another amazing song. If he continues in this vein i will have to ask him to stop, as listening to his music is interfering with watching my DVD boxset of Lost season 2. He says that he identifies most with the fat guy Hurley, but I see him more as one of those characters that mill around in the background with no name, occasionally collecting coconuts or shouting for the doctor.

    Vote early, vote often (well, once)

    OneMusic's not doing one this year and Colin Murray's show organising such would require some imagination on their part, so the Memory Of Peel-flavoured Dandelion Radio is organising its own Festive 50. We hope whoever runs the station is also keeping up tradition by logging all the votes longhand in an old ledger and tutting at the lack of votes for non-guitar based music.

    Thursday, November 23, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #23

    If we're honest, we're not sure picking a track you've worked on yourself isn't bending the unwritten rules slightly, but we'd never heard it before and he's got very good reasons so we'll let him off. He for today being producer of many fine works Gareth Parton:

    Mid-State Orange - Best Intentions

    It’s sad, but this piece has turned from being a celebration into an obituary after some disappointing news I received last week. I’m going to cheat a bit and rather than tell you about my secret personal track or ground-breaking piece of music, I’m going to tell you about a whole record label. Candle Records, in fact.

    I spent 2002 living in Melbourne, Australia. For anyone who hasn’t been, I can’t recommend it more highly. Besides great lifestyle, great weather and great-people it boasts a really exciting underground indie-music scene, a million miles from the Crocodile Hunter image of the Aussie fed to us here by shit beer ads.

    At the forefront of this is the tiny Candle Records. Based out of the back of the coolest record shop in town (Polyester) and run since 1994 by a handful of loyalists, they released their 100th record earlier this year. They concentrate on local bands, with a leaning towards observational lyrics, often twee acoustic and folky, as exemplified by their most successful export, The Lucksmiths (released in the UK on the label Fortuna Pop).

    Though parochial lyrics about the Great Dividing Range or the superiority of living North of the Yarra may not mean much to your average Brit, if you’re into Belle And Sebastian or The Smiths you’ll dig this. It’s a gloriously incestuous scene where everyone plays on everyone else's records, a DIY ethic with no budget and no egos. Other artists on their roster you should check out are Mid-State Orange, Anthony Atkinson, Darren Hanlon, Tim Oxley and The Mabels. The easiest route to checking them out is via one of their numerous compilations.

    I was lucky enough to be involved with Candle’s 101st release, producing three tracks for Mid-State Orange's debut album (one of which I’ve included here as my download). Led by singer/guitarist Louis Richter they mix Stereolab with Pavement with the occasional Krautrock wig-out. I love it.

    Now here’s the sad bit... It was announced last week that, as of next April, Candle Records will cease trading. Chris ‘Crouchy’ Crouch, the label owner, has decided he has to call it a day. It’s totally understandable but the really infuriating thing is, it’s not just his label that is suffering. It’s a global phenomena. It’s not hard to do the sums. You can’t make much money selling records these days. Most of our best-loved labels will drop off the radar within a few years. The few that survive will be vanity projects funded by those who don’t need the income to keep it afloat or the ones who get swallowed up the majors.

    But enough of the pessimism - let’s celebrate the life of Candle. Delve in to their back catalogue, discover the obscurities, and if you like what you download, maybe visit their mail-order website and take some old stock off their hands...

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #22

    Onwards with our survey of those songs you must know about, and here's organisation on our part. We've already had half of the Indie Credential duo on day 7, so more than two weeks later it's the turn of JustHipper:

    The Ocean Blue - Ballerina Out Of Control

    When I was a teenager growing up in the deep southern United States we did not have many places to find new and unusual bands. There was college radio, and in Atlanta, college radio, namely the Georgia State University station, was pretty good, which in college radio terms meant about 15% of what they played was actually listenable (although not necessarily worth hearing). Then there was MTV.

    Now at the time, MTV had one really great show called 120 Minutes which was for American teenagers what John Peel was for British teenagers. Sadly, it was on at a ridiculous time (I can’t remember if it started or finished at 2am, but it was late) on a Sunday night and it was hosted by an English guy named Dave Kendal. At 16 or 17 years old when I first discovered it, I could only watch it when I was on school holidays. I used to sneak into the lounge on those precious nights in the hope of finding something new and exciting. I found the likes of The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Blur and other essential bands from my youth through 120 Minutes. On one spectacular night, however, in about 1991, I saw the videos for Get The Message by Electronic and Ballerina Out of Control by The Ocean Blue back-to-back. The Electronic video was exciting for what I hope are obvious reasons, but I was mesmerised by the lushness of the Ocean Blue track and its video full of spinning ballet dancers and soft lighting. The name of the band and the song burned themselves into my head. I did not, unfortunately, have the cash to buy the album so that was that. A full three years passed before I heard the track again and it was as wonderful as I’d first remembered it.

    The Ocean Blue are an American band, from Philadelphia or thereabouts if I remember correctly, who were in awe of the British bands of their time. Had they been British I suspect they’d have filled a bill with the likes of The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Railway Children, The Field Mice and even bands like Lush or Slowdive. As things stood, however, they were swimming firmly against the tide in the US, they never made it over the ocean and their tiny audience was a small pocket of American indie kids who were obsessed with any music coming out of the UK and any music that sounded like it was influenced by any music coming out of the UK, myself included. They released three albums to not much fanfare before the lead singer left acrimoniously. I thought they had split after releasing one final album, but it seems they've been recording continually for the last decade and they recently toured Peru. While the first two records are a relaxing enough listen, Ballerina Out Of Control is their perfect pop moment. I had nearly forgotten about the band entirely until I started using eBay last year to start replacing all the old cassette gems in my collection with CDs, which is the point at which I purchased a near-pristine copy of their sophomore album, Cerulean.

    The greatness of a song can often be measured by the fact that even going seven or eight years between listens as trends move on and your tastes change it still sounds as remarkable as the first time you heard it. Certainly, when I first played the CD it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

    The subject matter, lyrically, is simple yet universal. The track is ostensibly about a troubled girl who spends her nights dancing, trying to forget her problems. I imagine anyone who has come home from a bad day to open a bottle of wine, or head off to a club or a gig to wind down can probably relate to the idea. When problems become too large, all you want is a distraction. Musically the song conjures up the image in the title, of a ballerina spinning and spinning around to the sweeping, fluid, lush sound of the guitars but her dancing is manic, insistent, because it's desperate. Despite the soothing grace of the melody there is an urgency in the background, driven by the repetitive bass and rhythm guitar parts which insinuate the tension of the subject. For her the "world came crashing down" but the reaction is that the "night becomes the day" so she throws off her daily worries, looks forward to her evenings where she can "twist and twirl and dance[s] it all away" yet "the problems persist, they won't go away." At night, dancing, she can forget the problems which plague her days but nobody can dance forever so behind the melodic calm is a nervous tension that cannot and will not be resolved which drives the melody and the lyrics forward. Much like the problems which will not go away, however, the ending of the song brings no solution, only reality.

    Ballerina Out of Control is a brilliant three minutes and forty-five seconds of jangly melodic pop which deserves rescuing from the vaults of early-nineties indie obscurity and a place in the hall of perfect one-hit wonders.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #21

    By coincidence there's an international thread running through the next few days' selections of the greatest overlooked songs, today's being the pick of Mawzine's Sheila Pham:

    Little Birdy - Relapse

    It's kind of strange that some people live in places surrounded by unimaginable vastness, with thousands of kilometres of ocean on one side and thousands of kilometres of dry desert on the other. This startling geography may be one reason why a lot decent bands come from Perth in Western Australia. Maybe living in the middle of nowhere is not only an incentive to make your own music, but something that happens out of sheer necessity.

    However it's happened, some pretty outstanding bands have emerged from Perth in recent years. Bands like The Sleepy Jackson and End of Fashion have achieved some success internationally, but there's still much about West Australian music which remains an unknown quantity to the rest of the world. Take for instance, Little Birdy, who came onto the scene in late 2003 with a phenomenal debut EP. Every song on that four track indicated that this was the start of something wonderful. Relapse in particular is one of those rare songs that gets you right from the first moment.

    The song starts off gently; the tinkling of a glockenspiel over a strumming guitar sets the initial pace, before Katy Steele's innocent and beguiling vocals lead you on a trip to somewhere unknown. In fact, it’s basically her voice which makes this song - and possibly their other ones - so special. Her distinctive voice is the instrument which lifts 'Relapse' from a good pop song to the heights of a great one.

    The song explores the ubiquitous break up and early on in the piece there's a lot of bad feeling and a lot of sarcasm: "I love the way you're always on my mind". But it doesn't take long before the negativity is stripped away to reveal the emotional core of the song: "I can't help this pain that I feel". As the song progresses that plaintive refrain hits all the right notes. The string section comes out strong before the dramatic climax, where Katy Steele lets loose in the last leg of the trip. The come down is a series of breathy sighs; the string section quietly fades away.

    All it takes is three and a half minutes to feel like you've plummeted into the depths of someone's pain before you come out again, gasping for air.

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #20

    Sharing his thoughts on the song that everyone should know about today, Lord Bargain:

    Geneva - Tranquillizer

    It was a Thursday night in 1997 and I was hovering around the studio of W963, University Radio Warwick. My show started at 10pm and so I was enjoying the company of my two friends Reverend Bargain and the Speaker of the House of Bargain whose excellent School Gates, No Karate show broadcast immediately before mine.

    In between a couple of rounds of their daft-yet-genius They Ain’t Green game, I caught the opening chords of a record I hadn’t heard before. It happens rarely, but sometimes I hear a piece of music and simply stop what I am doing. I have to listen. The track in question was the new single from Geneva, a band I wasn’t previously familiar with. Once I had determined what it was, I asked them to leave the CD out for me and I played it later that night on my own show.

    From that moment on, Tranquillizer became one of my all-time favourite records. Almost ten years later that still remains the case. I do also love the Further album from which it came (you may have heard the other singles Best Regrets or Into The Blue) but this for me is the absolute stand-out track. It was actually voted NME’s Single of the Year in 1997.

    It did mildly trouble the top 40, although you would be forgiven for not remembering it. Geneva themselves never really lived up to their early promise. I remember seeing them at the Manchester Students Union in 1999 on the release of their second album which was pretty disappointing. I felt for them - there were only about 50 people at the gig and you could tell that it was the end of them. They energetically performed a fair chunk of Further that night though, and so for someone who loved them it was a pretty satisfying evening.

    What is it about Tranquillizer that I love so much? It’s difficult to say, really. If ever a song can soar, this one must be it. The opening guitar riff/introduction immediately grabs your attention, and then Andy Montgomery‘s beautiful if androgynous voice takes over. It fits the perfect model of a song for me - a great pop melody but somehow sad and melancholic at the same time. It’s a perfect length (three and a half minutes) which means it leaves you gasping for more.

    The thing about it I love the most are the lyrics. To this day, I have no idea what they mean, but they seem to fit so perfectly. For example "eye liner up, you knock me down" and "is this what checkmate means?" she said, lighting up again, "yes, I like the stillness".

    Eh? And: "Until it all seemed pointless, we lifted up a mattress from underneath the window seat." Not sure what that’s all about. Anyway, ignoring that, the line "every step, another step towards half-heartedness" is brilliant as is the hook of the record is a line which I adore in its simplicity. "Let us be happy while we’re still young." You can’t say fairer than that.

    Weekender : the dancing outlaw

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    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #19

    In no way to decry the eighteen previous pieces you've written, all of which have been first class and thanks for your feedback, but we've taken a flexible approach with the form of the guest-laden feature - while most would frontload with the best known people, we've backloaded ours. That is to say there'll be a few people you've possibly heard of coming up over this last week and a half, not least today's volunteer. Talking up the very band he's gigging with tonight in Cambridge (coincidence, we assure you), the very excellent singer-songwriter Jeremy Warmsley:

    AfterChristmas - Burn The Bungalow

    I get a lot of myspace adds from bands. Mostly I ignore them but sometimes, when they have an AMAZING photo of a donkey as their profile picture, I check them out. That's how I came to hear this song, over a year ago. I was listening to a lot of Animal Collective at the time, and something about this song makes me think of that band; probably just the melody and Cammy's voice rather than any particular shared aesthetic (ooh, pretentious) but it certainly endeared the song to me.

    The production is precisely messy - I love the "keysurf" sound (when they play live, Cammy plays a crappy Yamaha learner's keyboard on an ironing board and just mashes the keys, apparently at random - although he's actually one of the most precise keyboardists I've ever seen). I think Cammy must be one of the last bedroom 4-track heroes, but I can't wait to hear what happens when he gets into a real studio.

    The song itself is ridiculously upbeat. Although there is a slight sense of uneasiness in some of the lyrics, in classic wrong-pop stylee. It can cure hangovers and will make your life better.

    Many thanks to Cammy from AfterChristmas for passing this mp3 on to us

    In shops tomorrow: 20/11


    At least the singles market remains active as we approach, although this week it's almost all bands with shiny new contracts and big things ahead. Not least the Rumble Strips, who kicked off in the traditional way with two ear-pricking slabs of undeniably Dexys-esque but with their own very parochially British approach on Transgressive. Snapped up by Island, they bring us the Cardboard Coloured Dreams EP - ah, Bonzos reference! - led by the melodic career to date highlight Oh Creole. They'll be in the 2007 books, as will the 1990s, the band who've supported everyone these last six months and who aren't all that reminiscent of members' former bands the Yummy Fur and V-Twin's angular eclecticism, instead trading in big glam licks and enormous choruses as in Bernard Butler-produced You're Supposed To Be My Friend. Fields will be much talked about in early January too as people are falling for their airy post-shoegaze dreampop across the land. If If You Fail We All Fail is mildly reminiscent of Mew it's probably because producer Michael Beinhorn did And The Glass Handed Kites. After a year in America Art Brut find themselves in a very unusual position - hailed as college heroes and festival highlights Stateside, little regarded outside their cult core in Britain. A move to Mute may pay dividends, although there's not been a lot of interest in standalone single Nag Nag Nag Nag yet. As with our recent discussions of Danananaykroyd, we really couldn't tell you whether The Be Be See is a great or poor band name, although the fact they call their hugely promising Squeeze-glam songs things like You K Gold (B-side: Discover E) is perhaps a step too far. At least we again have a reason not to be immediately suspicious of bands signed by majors after, in their case, three gigs. Lots of goodness in the 7" racks - the hugely exciting Strokes-meets-Smiths-meets-Pretty Girls Make Graves racket of Tokyo Police Club make a debut on permanently reliable Memphis Industries with Nature Of The Experiment; all the support slots that haven't been given to the 1990s have been handed to Blood Red Shoes recently, the noisy duo (female singer/guitarist, male drummer - we see) finding possibly post-punk's last drop of excitability on You Bring Me Down; Tilly And The Wall bring the party once more with the first single from the excitable and exciting in equal measure Bottoms Of Barrels, Sing Songs Along; and Prinzhorn Dance School sound like the Fall produced by James Murphy on You Are The Space Invader, which given they're on DFA, who signed them when in single figures for gigs, isn't that unsurprising. They're based in Brighton, but then who isn't these days?


    An enormous week for albums, not least with three bloody enormous releases. Here's everything you need to know - U2 were only really good before 1983 with a few exceptions (the Zoo TV business, the fact Elevation sounded like a beefier Departure), Morning Glory is highly inconsistent on reflection so all you need of Oasis is three quarters of Definitely Maybe and half of The Masterplan, and nobody in the world needs to hear another microsecond of Beatles rejiggery. Thank you for listening. Actually, it's mostly repackaging and resweepings in this week's selections : Tom Waits' Orphans comes with the none more Waitsian sub-title Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, and even for a load of out-takes and rarities (his cover of Heigh Ho from Snow White And The Seven Dwarves is once heard never forgotten) you know exactly what it sounds like but that's no bad thing; for a band who only released one proper album Josef K have been well done for by compilers, Young And Stupid, Endless Soul and the double pack of that album, The Only Fun In Town, and its aborted predecessor Sorry For Laughing doing quite well on the shelves without needing Entomology too; Sufjan Stevens' desire to release everything he's ever done means he's converted his annual festive present to friends and family into commerce with the 5 CD set Songs For Christmas; Billy Bragg's Box Set Vol.1: Utility is a rejigging of the first of his lavish (seven CDs, this one) career retrospectives; a late entrant to the Two Years Since Peel rummage sale is John Peel's Dandelion: The Complete Dandelion Records Singles Collection 1969-1972, the full story of his label featuring myriad wonders including Gene Vincent, perennially cultish folkie Bridget St John, Wogan favourite Clifford T Ward, Bill Oddie doing On Ilkla Moor Baht'at and Stackwaddy, who we've never heard but John had a stack of anecdotes about. The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society invented the concept of British pastoral psychedelia and has reached deluxe status, the Velvets-aping proto-punk of The Modern Lovers' debut hasn't but is always worth a mention at mid-price. Roadrunner, She Cracked, Pablo Picasso, Abstract Plane - it resonates through the years. As do the Ramones, if not Brats On The Beat: Ramones For Kids, a concept surely thought up after the title. Nick Oliveri's involved, oddly. A couple of actual new releases do sneak out, chiefly Swan Lake, a sort-of-supergroup of Dan Bejar (Destroyer, New Pornographers), Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes) and Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes) taking things easier if not without reward on Beast Moans, while Houston's Yppah melds hip hop grooves and idyllic soundscapes on You Are Beautiful At All Times, one for Caribou or Prefuse 73 fans.


    On our Myspace at the moment are details of but a few of the ridiculously involved, and indeed ridiculous, set-pieces that made the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band concert/experience one of the greatest we've probably ever seen. It's not that there'll be never be another, it's that it's impossible to think there was one in the first place. The band themselves give explaining it all a go on Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: The Complete Nutter History Of..., a three disc set including rare live footage. We want physical thought bubbles like Roger Ruskin Spear's.


    The Best Of Smash Hits book includes two Morrissey set pieces, one plugging the ideas behind Meat Is Murder, the other the infamous Pete Burns meet-up that both have since claimed was mostly made up. Nobody tells the story of Morrissey quite like the man himself, which is where quote anthology Morrissey In Conversation comes in, going from the early days to Ringleader Of The Tormentors and barely sparing the horses inbetween.

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Art Brut - Nag Nag Nag Nag [Myspace]
  • The Be Be See - You K Gold [YouTube]
  • Blood Red Shoes - You Bring Me Down [YouTube]
  • The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe (The song Chris Morris wants played at his funeral, apparently, and one of the myriad highlights of their extraordinary 40th anniversary tour. Beg, borrow or steal tickets if they're still to come near you, readers)
  • Brakes - Hold Me In The River [link to video]
  • Cold War Kids - We Used To Vacation [mp3 from A Soundtrack For Everyone]
  • Final Fantasy - This Lamb Sells Condos [mp3 from I (Heart) Music]
  • Goodbooks - Leni [YouTube]
  • Jeremy Warmsley - Modern Children
  • Joan As Policewoman - We Don't Own It
  • Johnny Flynn - Hello Hello [Myspace]
  • Lucky Soul - Ain't Never Been Cool [Myspace]
  • M Ward - Right In The Head [live YouTube]
  • Mystery Jets - Purple Prose
  • Pagan Wanderer Lu - The Memorial Hall [Myspace]
  • Pet Shop Boys - Can You Forgive Her [YouTube]
  • Rumble Strips - Oh Creole [YouTube]
  • Sufjan Stevens - Springfield [mp3 from Bows + Arrows]
  • Tokyo Police Club - Nature Of The Experiment [YouTube]
  • Young Marble Giants - Credit In The Straight World [live YouTube]
  • Saturday, November 18, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #18

    Let's just get on with it today. Next cab off the crate-digging rank is writer Dave Walsh:

    Fatima Mansions - Blues For Ceausescu

    It must have been early 1990 when the noise began. I was 17 and studying for my final school exams. There I was one dark night, bent over my student desk in a dark corner of Co. Wexford, listening to the Dave Fanning Show on Ireland's 2FM radio station. A vicious noise tore through my headphones. What the hell was Fanning playing at? Guitars like chainsaws beating their way through a butcher shop and howls of feedback circling overhead. A murky, distorted but recognisably Irish voice lurching through the noise, spewing vitriol. But not before it greeted the listener: "Well hello". Impossible to work out the lyrics from there but for the chorus - "Ciao, Ceausescu". The top of my head lifted off. From that moment on, rock music stopped being just entertainment for me. It wasn't a lacuna or lovestruck escapism anymore. Music could transcendent the mundane, and be charged with raw energy. And it could still be good music!

    I'd grown up under the myth that punk was something from another generation. To a teenager, the music of 10-15 years beforehand was a lifetime away. My generation were left to salvage some meaning from the foppish kitsch of the 80s, all the baggy suits and bad hair.

    Whatever this was on the radio, it wasn't fucking Duran Duran. The genius behind this fantastic racket was furious, that was for sure. But why was he so worked up about Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania's communist dictator, who had been executed, along with his wife, while singing the fourth word of the communist song L'Internationale on Christmas Day 1989? I had no idea. I was a smart enough kid, but was only lurching towards an understanding of international politics. Fanning's voice came on, and told it was a guy called Cathal Coughlan and the band was the Fatima
    Mansions. The song was called Blues For Ceausescu.

    Months later, I found a 12" of Blues For Ceausescu in Dublin's Freebird Records, its cover a shock of weird green-painted images by the longtime Fatima Mansions artist Lawrence Bogle (alleged by some to be a pseudonym of Coughlan's). I bought it up and played it till my crappy needle wore it out. I had corrupted my five-year-old brother, who took to ambling around the house shouting "Ciao, Ceausescu" to anyone who would listen.

    That's 16 years ago, and I'm still thinking over what Cathal Coughlan was singing about. I've met the man, but never asked him about it. Sometimes I think he's musing on the return of Ceausescu, Messiah-like, or as an anti-Christ, but this time as the King of England. Other times I think it's not really about Ceausescu at all, but the whole fucked up state of the UK at the time... and, for that matter, Ireland. Maybe it's a fusion of all these - a goodbye and good riddance to Ceausescu, with an observation that the late dictator would have felt right at home in Thatcher's Britain.

    The Fatima Mansions were a band of their time - made up of both British musicians and Irishmen like frontman Coughlan, spat out of the gob of recession-era Ireland (to misquote him from elsewhere) into the belly of the beast itself - Thatcher's Britain. Oh, it's easy to whinge at the grinning duplicity of Tony Blair, but England in 1990 was a dark, dark place - on March 31st, 1990, a claimed 200,000 people turned up in Trafalgar Square to protest against the Poll Tax - an unpopular new tax which millions of people refused to pay, and riots broke out across the country.

    Cathal Coughlan would have been resident in London for some time by 1990. Through the 80s, he sang with a band called Microdisney, a weird, unlikely mutation of saccharine pop and vile, angry lyrics. Coughlan left, formed the Fatima Mansions, named after an unfortunate and unsavoury bunch of council flats in Dublin. Coughlan was himself from rural Cork, and while he demonstrated unquenchable bitterness towards Ireland he also seemed to loathe London. Much of his other lyrics are luridly concerned with the "grief and dislocation". The title track of the album Viva Dead Ponies is a ballad about a shopkeeper in the London suburb of Crouch End who is convinced that's he's the second coming of Christ. The monologue of On Suicide Bridge, apparently about the suicides from the bridge at Archway, also name-checks the area, the suicidee telling of how he has become "weary of the humiliations of Crouch End". In The Bishop of Babel he sings "We don't don't talk the same, so we don't talk at all, and our hosts just look on with glee". This isn't to say that Coughlan's work is all depressing - some if it is darkly hiliarous, like the Fatima's fucked-up cover version of Shiny Happy People. It's almost unrecognisable. With the Fatima's fury and despair came a palpable sense of devilment, and a truly wicked sense of humour.

    Until recently, most of my trips to London had been in-and-out commando raids - never more than a few days. Last year, I spent three months in the city, and spent a lot of time exploring by bicycle, and it was then, and only then that I realised that much of my perceptions of parts of London were completely based on Coughlan's lyrics. All I knew about Walthamstow was that some character called "Aoghdan had gone hunting" there for food and money, "but the dogs had come home alone", in a song called Look What I Stole For Us, Darling. When I mentioned to people in London, they all said "yeah, that's Walthamstow alright". I still haven't made it there. Perhaps I need to do a course with Ray Mears first.

    In London again last week, I took a bus through Crouch End. It didn't seem too bad at first glance, sixteen years on - at least no more grim than the rest of the urban sprawl. But like Coughlan, I too hail from rural Ireland. If I spend more than two weeks in somewhere like London, I start to loathe the place. I don't know how he's spent more than 20 years there.

    But wait - what *were* the rest of the lyrics? Ceausescu was dead, this was for sure. Coughlan sets the scene - total dislocation. Nothing can be depended upon - nothing is true, nothing is permitted. The untenable must be maintained, and the new messiah is already drawing credit on his mother's uterus. Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma gets namedropped in the present tense, despite having had the shit blown out of him by the IRA in 1979. I love living in Democracy, I really do! Some of it seems nonsensical, but Coughlan is not a man given to whimsy.

    Blues for Ceausescu is, for me, a classic work of refined, yet unbridled anger and fury at the state of things. It's still relevant today. I saw Coughlan play a solo gig last week - the first time I'd laid eyes on the man in a decade. He's lost none of his vigour. It was the night of the US mid-term elections, and Cathal sat at a piano, sharing his fantasies about Dick Cheney's future funeral. Walking through Shepherd's Bush after the show, a friend and I agreed that in some ways Coughlan's work has aged none - the same issues of fear, loathing and corruption have come back to haunt us again, thanks to people like Tony Blair, and the cheerleaders of American Neo-Conservatism. Milosovic is dead, Saddam - himself big news in 1990 - is awaiting execution, and Donald Rumsfeld is the new scapegoat, chased off into the wilderness by the howling, baying masses.


    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Songs To Learn And Sing #17

    If you're just joining us, this is the feature where a series of bloggers and randoms are selecting the song they think you should know about. Doing so effusively today, Neil from Music Like Dirt:

    Esther Phillips - Home Is Where The Hatred Is

    On Monday December 13th 1971 in a studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Esther Phillips performed a cover version that to this day almost 35 years later remains one of the finest soul recordings ever committed to tape. Cover versions are much maligned, too often tossed out as a cheap B-side or worse still what's commonly known as the 'Jo Whiley', which if I leaf through the dictionary I find described as "ironic, wacky and always unbearable cover version, often of an R&B track performed by insipid indie guitar group (see entry for The Kooks)".

    Home Is Where The Hatred Is was originally written and recorded by Gil Scott Heron and is itself something of a classic, so this was not something to take on lightly. Esther however was a formidable woman and produced a performance - aided and abetted by some of the finest backing musicians - of such remarkable intensity and beauty that it, in my opinion at least, outstrips the original.

    It can be safely said that Esther Phillips experienced more highs and lows than most. From the moment she recorded her first track at just 14 years old, her life was, as Ronan Keeting once said, a rollercoaster. Known originally as Little Ester, she was within a few years chronically addicted to heroin while still just a teenager. It was an addiction which caused her to record infrequently through the fifties, almost dropping out of music altogether, before making a comeback in 1962 when her version of the country standard Release Me became a hit (yes, the Englebert Humperdink one) Almost immediately her record label went bankrupt. She was by now no longer Little Ester, if myth be believed the surname picked up when she passed a Phillips gas station.

    She continued to battle drug and personal problems in the 60's, but for all the lows there were some highs. Signing for Atlantic, an inspired cover of And I Love Her (re-titled with a Him) brought her to the attention of the Beatles, who brought her over to the UK in 1965 to appear on a special edition of the BBC's Ready, Steady, Go.

    Home is Where The Hatred Is was recorded for another new label - the fledgling Kudo - and after yet another spell in rehab. The lyrics lay out a stark tale of the destruction wrought by a lifetime of addiction, a fairly daring subject for Esther to tackle, and she later admitted that it was the hardest lyric she's ever performed.

    [blockquote]"Stand as far away from me as you can, and ask me why
    Hang on to your rosary beads... close your eyes to watch me die"[/blockquote]

    But what a performance! Phillips, in possession one of the truly classic expressive soul voices (part Nina Simone, but also fully her own), drew on what was by now a sixteen year battle with drug abuse to put that emotion in every line and syllable. At points her voice seems close to breaking while at others she sounds fiercely defiant.

    And it's not just the vocal performance that makes this one of the most painfully beautiful records ever made. Kudu saw Esther as their prime act and as such drafted in the finest backing group they could possibly assemble. Nowadays people rarely bother to record with real string sections due to cost and the ready availability of fairly decent keyboard versions, but here the strings are breathtaking. There are about ten seconds which when I first heard the record (on Coldcut's seminal Solid Steel radio show) sent shivers down my spine and caused me to rewind and repeat, rewind and repeat, rewind and repeat. As Esther sings "home is where I live inside my white powder dreams" the strings reply in dramatic defiant fashion, but then as she follows "home was once an empty vacuum that's filled now... with my silent screams" they almost scream for her. If I had to pick my favourite ten seconds of music of all time this would probably be it. I can't adequately describe how good it is.

    Listen to the track with headphones on or with decent speakers to appreciate the mix which seems to pluck out every instrument and afford them a tiny bit of the sound spectrum that is theirs alone. Stereo doesn't get used like this much any more either, so you get the delicious alto sax of Hank Crawford in the left ear while perhaps a trumpet comes in on the right. The arrangement was done by Pee Wee Ellis and the impeccable drums by James Brown's stickman Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie. From the backing singers and keyboards to the guitars the names involved are like a who's who of the finest musicians of the era. Nominated for a Grammy in 1972, the album lost out to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin's Young, Gifted And Black. Aretha promptly gave the Grammy to Phillips saying that From A Whisper To A Scream quite simply deserved it more.

    As a student I remember stumbling across a vinyl copy for a fairly ridiculous amount of money in a long defunct record shop in Kentish Town. These were after all the days when some albums were pretty hard to find, or at least harder than typing an artist's name into Soulseek and then ten minutes later possessing everything they ever recorded. Thankfully in the 1990s the track became widely available as part of the Blaxploitation compilations and on a fantastic best of the Kudu years CD. If you don't already own the album or any of these compilations a tenner will never be better spent. Delete the MP3 (or record it at a higher quality), chuck everyone out the house, draw the curtains, turn off the lights and sit in the middle of the speakers and soak up the majesty of this recording. Wonderful!