Saturday, June 30, 2007

Half term report

We always try to do this on July 1st, the year's official midpoint, but we've got all the weekend stuff to do then so brought forward a whole day, here's what we reckon are the ten best albums released thus far:

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
No Funeral, but then what is? An enormous sounding almost gothic pop-musical tour de force from the end of the world, or thereabouts. Start with: Intervention

Battles - Mirrored
Almost uniquely in 2007, it sounds like nothing else. Brings avant-garde mathrock to hardcore structures, and it's listenable too. Start with: Atlas

Blonde Redhead - 23
If sophisticated, almost elegaic, shoegazing is a more approachable Blonde Redhead sound then everyone else is in trouble. Start with: Spring And By Summer Fall

Field Music - Tones Of Town
The last product of Field Music under that name, apparently, recalibrates intelligent, classicist pop into its own shapes. Start with: Give It Lose It Take It

Jetplane Landing - Backlash Cop
The post-hardcore of old is jammed full of namechecks, grooves and soul power and ends up not sounding like Rage Against The Machine. Start with: Lungs Of Punk

Johnny Boy - Johnny Boy
We've waited a long time for this, the duo swiftly leaping styles while remaining somewhere between Spector, Shields and sloganeering. Start with: You Are The Generation...

LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
You can hear exactly what James Murphy grew up on, but what he's done better than anyone is recalibrate those records into uberdancey modern wholes. Start with: Time To Get Away

Lucky Soul - The Great Unwanted
They emerged in 2006's Summer Of Spector but belied all that with a collection as much tearstained Dusty as fist-pumping Ronettes. Start with: Ain't Never Been Cool

Napoleon IIIrd - In Debt To (currently download only - CD coming very soon, so preorder while you can)
AKA James Mabbett, one of 2007's most spectacular and underappreciated successes, superbly crafted intelligent lo-fi Elephant 6-meets-folktronica. Start with: This Is My Call To Arms

Piano Magic - Part Monster
Speaking of underappreciated, Glen Johnson and co's latest is swathed in haunting reverberic qualities and quiet suburban desperation. Start with: England’s Always Better (As You’re Pulling Away)

And here's twelve albums we're looking forward to in the year's second half. Please, artists involved, don't let us down:

Interpol - Our Love To Admire (9th July)
Only a week away. It's doubtless leaked by now.

GoodBooks - Control (30th July)
Quality post-punk produce still waiting to fully commercially emerge, which is your fault. All the family favourites are on it, and Passchendaele is the advance single, which is nothing less than well and good.

MIA - Kala (20th August)
Timbaland, Diplo and Switch all pop by the console but early signs are that it's still very much Mathangi's vision at the helm. The cover is no better than Arular's.

Rilo Kiley - Under The Blacklight (20th August)
Plenty of bands could line up to scamper through the Billboard chart wormhole in the wake of the Shins and Modest Mouse - Spoon, for example, whose Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is out next week - but Jenny, Blake and the others seem best positioned. Dr Dre cohort Mike Elizondo co-produces.

Super Furry Animals - Hey! Venus (27th August)
With Love Kraft now almost universally regarded as a misstep, word is that for their first release on Rough Trade it's back to frazzled Beach Boyisms, although less electronically inspired.

Liars - Liars (27th August)
Always be suspicious of bands who release a self-titled album that isn't their debut, we've always thought. Story is that it's far more guitar-based than anything since They Threw Us All In A Trench... but stil not easy listening.

Go! Team - Proof Of Youth (10th September)
The coming together of the six-piece live band since Thunder Lightning Strike was recorded has inevitably meant a change in recording methods, sounding more live but no less stylistic cut and paste. Chuck D, Bonde Du Role and junior cheerleading teams appear.

Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam (10th September)
Perhaps taking after Panda Bear's album, their eighth full-length seems more structured, deep and tight than usual, although in AC world these things are relative.

iLiKETRAiNS - Elegies To Lessons Learnt (1st October)
Yeah, that about sums iLT up. The single The Deception supposedly being about fake round the world yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, ditto. It all being an elegaic wall of post-rock, similarly.

British Sea Power - TBA
Their last Newsboost claimed the album, recorded at the start of the year at Hotel2Tango with Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, GY!BE) and out in the autumn, will be called Now That's What I Call World War One Joy Division.

The Young Knives - TBA
"It'll be shit, like every other second album" Henry reckoned onstage in Loughborough on their recent tour, before playing some new songs that proved him wrong. October, it's said, with Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Delgados) on board.

Elbow - TBA
Self produced for the first time between Guy Garvey's radio stints, words like "darker" and "heavier" are being bandied about. November, say whispers.

So the Spice Girls and The Verve are back together...

...there's a new Labour prime minister, we're being encouraged to grieve for Diana on Sunday, the Bank Of England being able to set interest rates is a major political issue, the government are taking anti-smoking legislation... what year ending in 7 is it again?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Illustrated Guide To... Elvis Costello

With most recognised mainstream-eclecticism standard bearers in pop music, you can still draw a linear pattern through most of their work. Paul McCartney is the sunny scouser, Bruce Springsteen the blue collar dreamer, Thom Yorke the easily irked Autechre fan. Elvis Costello is different. In his first NME interview in 1977 he cited Gram Parsons' GP as his favourite album, and whatever the style of his latest release has enthusiastically promoted everything from swing to jazz to the occasional current big thing. In the midst of New Wave's popularity he made a country album; his LA album was followed by a collaboration with a string quartet. And in amongst all of this, he's made some of the most arresting, sophisticated, literary minded rock'n'roll music ever, restless in pretty much every plausible way.

Declan Patrick MacManus, born 25th August 1954 in Paddington, was the son of Irish-born Lilian Costello (apparently it originally rhymed with 'pedalo') and Ross MacManus, a singer and trumpeter chiefly with the Joe Loss Orchestra who most famously sang the R Whites Secret Lemonade Drinker advert song, which his son features on somewhere. Elvis' first open mike came aged fifteen and a change of name to Declan Costello followed in 1973, shortly before forming pub country-rockers Flip City, who lasted two years before by now DP Costello went solo. After early support by Capital Radio's Charlie Gillett and a VDU operator's job at Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, Costello sent a demo tape to maverick new indie label Stiff Records in August 1976 and was signed virtually on the spot, the first artist under proper contract to the label, co-founder and self appointed manager Jake Riviera's first major decision being to rechristen Declan as Elvis.

So quick was Costello writing material that album sessions could be funded by the end of that year, backed by a pick-up band comprising all but the singer from cult California-originating country bar band Clover - guitarist John McFee, bassist Johnny Ciambotti, keyboardist Sean Hopper and drummer Mickey Shine (Ciambotti and Hopper joined Clover's singer's next project Huey Lewis And The News, while McFee joined the Doobie Brothers and later sessioned on Almost Blue) - and recorded in sick days and holidays into early 1977 with Stiff's other signee Nick Lowe producing. Less Than Zero became the debut single in March of that year, a cryptic attack on Blackshirt leader Oswald Mosley, two months before his first solo gig under this guise, which tied in with the Philly soul-countrified second single Alison. Neither charted. Third single (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes, likewise. By this time Costello had realised that Oswald Mosley meant nothing to Americans and so rewrote the lyrics for their own infamous Oswald, Lee Harvey.

Less Than Zero (Dallas version, from Live At The El Mocambo, 1978)

Needing a live band to replace the reunited Clover, Riviera put out audition notices and got bassist Bruce Thomas, who'd made two albums with country rockers Quiver and been in bands with Steve Howe of Yes, Paul Rodgers of Free, Al Stewart and Bridget St John; drummer Pete Thomas, decamping from ex-Dr Feelgooder Wilko Johnson's band; and Steve Nason, a Royal College Of Music classically trained improv pianist who would eventually rename himself Steve Nieve. The Attractions began their residency as Costello's band in July, by which time the weeklies were taking note in time for My Aim Is True, released 22nd July 1977 and fronted by the iconic, arresting shot of Costello, knock kneed and pigeon-toed, Fender aweigh. It didn't sound like punk, either country wistfulness or something akin to bar blues new wave, but the mix of blunt bile and sensitivity, heightened by Costello's melodic metre, gave it an honorary position amid the cool class of '77. Days after the other Elvis died (Stiff briefly toyed with renaming him Elton Costello) it hit number 14, and went on to reach 32 on the Billboard list after huge import sales. An interview with Nick Kent a week later in the NME saw Costello coin his famous remark that all his songs were about "guilt and revenge", as well as claiming "I'm not going to be around to witness my own artistic decline".

After a spell on the bacchinalian Stiff's Greatest Stiffs Live Tour with Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric and Larry Wallis, Costello joined Riviera and Lowe at the former's breakaway label Radar, but not before standalone single Watching The Detectives, a new wave-noir influenced by the Clash's version of Police And Thieves, featuring Nieve and Graham Parker's The Rumour rhythm section Andrew Bodnar and Steve Goulding. In December he and the Attractions were invited onto Saturday Night Live after the Sex Pistols had been refused passports to perform Watching The Detectives and Less Than Zero... or at least that was the idea, until Costello halted Less Than Zero seconds in, in a move inspired by Jimi Hendrix's change of plan on Lulu's BBC show, told the audience that "there's no reason for me to do this song here" and launched into media-castigating new song Radio Radio instead, a move that got him banned from the show for twelve years. (In 2000 he guested on a Beastie Boys cover on SNL's 25th anniversary special)

Radio Radio (Saturday Night Live)

The first Attractions-backed album was March 1978's This Year's Model, still in the top 100 the last time Rolling Stone listed the greatest albums ever. Taut, angry and driven, as the vast majority of the Attractions' work was, by the rhythm section, Costello tirades against exes, fashion and the world that's turned against him, as he sees it. Number 4 in Britain, 30 in America, and the continuation of a tour that Elvis later estimated lasted two and a half years from Stiff tour to end with only studio time in between. The start of 1979 saw an album nearly entitled Emotional Fascism but changed late on to Armed Forces, the first to officially credit the Attractions. Inspired by Berlin-era Bowie and Iggy plus ABBA, it was more intricately arranged yet even more directly confrontational, as if to befit his truculence - he'd been cited in attacks on photographers during his world tour and got arrested in Japan for playing on the back of a flat-back truck to advertise his tour - and less personal, pointing fingers and commentating on social decadence. Northern Irish Troubles commentary Oliver's Army, nearly dropped from the album until Nieve added the piano line from Dancing Queen, became a number two single, the album doing likewise in Britain and hitting number ten in the US.

Then everything suddenly caught up with Costello, as during his fourth proper US tour a stopover at a Holiday Inn in Columbus, Ohio in March 1979 the band became embroiled in a row with Stephen Stills' band and in particular accomplished backing singer Bonnie Bramlett which culminated in Costello referring to James Brown as a "jive-ass nigger" and pronouncing Ray Charles a "blind, ignorant nigger." At a hastily convened press conference in New York, Bramlett having given her story to any news organisation that would listen, Costello admitted that in his drunken and tour wound-up state "it became necessary for me to outrage these people with about the most obnoxious and offensive remarks that I could muster" in the hope the 'debate' would cease. It was too late, firstly as both he and Bruce Thomas were injured in the subsequent melee, and then as his music was swiftly dropped from radio stations (a move Costello concurred with, and Charles publicly forgave him) and Rock Against Racism activists picketed a number of concerts, ironically using posters bearing a picture of him taken at one of their own benefit gigs the previous year. Back in Britain, where the news reports were greeted with understandable surprise, a new single was issued.

Accidents Will Happen (live at Hollywood High, 1979)

Finally taking time out, Costello produced The Specials' landmark debut album, wrote Girls Talk for Dave Edmunds and watch him take it to number four, and decided his next album would be fuelled by a longstanding love of soul and recorded in Holland. A cover of Sam & Dave's I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down had nearly come out on 2-Tone at the end of 1979 until WEA intervened, and after legal shenangians Riviera's latest label F-Beat issued Get Happy!! in February 1980, Costello's first of many sidesteps, 20 tracks given an intentional retro feel playing off Booker T & The MGs but claustrophobic, with wordplay set to full and laced with the rhythmic sense and tense playoffs the Attractions had brought all along. Another number two in Britain, 11 in America, was the result. Before the year was out, while Costello took some time out, the Attractions had brought out their own album, Mad About The Wrong Boy, mostly written by Nieve and with him sharing vocals with Bruce Thomas. It didn't go down well.

The American label put out an obscurity compilation, Taking Liberties, followed by F-Beat's similarly tracklisted Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers, before 1981 started with a new album. Trust was by all accounts difficult to record but it sounds his most sumptuous to date, more direct than before and switching from buoyant new wave to early rock'n'roll to soul mod-pop to intimate piano-led territory, Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook guesting on joint vocals on one track. In terms of character subject matter the title is ironic - Costello, who has admitted this was the most drunken and drugged recording session of his career, built the songs around his political and personal disenchantment. This one only made it to number nine in Britain and 28 in America, none of the singles going top 40 here, while Costello helped take Squeeze out of the New Wave rut by co-producing their fourth album East Side Story, adding backing vocals to Tempted.

With the New Wave he'd initially surfed overtaken by the New Romantics, Elvis chose this moment to jump the tracks again to the sort of music he'd been talking up since the start, having in 1978 duetted with George Jones on his own Stranger In The House. Taking up residence in CBS Studio A, Nashville, where Dylan recorded The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited, with Billy Sherrill, who'd also worked with Tammy Wynette (he co-wrote Stand By Your Man), Johnny Cash, George Jones and Charlie Rich, covers album Almost Blue was a respectful but not cloying experiment that made number 7 in October 1981, preceded by the single, Jones' A Good Year For The Roses, hitting number 6. Early copies came with a sticker: 'WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause offence to narrow minded listeners.' The writing space left Costello with room to formulate his most ambitious projects yet, and 1982 started with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall before everyone moved into George Martin's AIR studios to work not with Nick Lowe, for the first time on an album of original material, but with Geoff Emerick, the engineer on Revolver, Sgt Pepper, The White Album and Abbey Road and in some ways Martin's equal in achieving their desired sonic innovations. Imperial Bedroom is Costello's crowning achievement for many (reputedly including himself), classy, intelligent baroque pop that asked for trouble with a US advertising campaign headlined 'Masterpiece?' but carried it off with rich textures, and if Costello really thought it was his most optimistic album he may well have been deluding himself, full as it is with sleaze, regret and love eroding, speculation surrounding whether the subject of some of these songs is Elvis' own extra-marital dalliance with notoriously prolific groupie Bebe Buell. The UK public took it to number six, America to 30. The first track was recorded in one take, Costello not having played the song to his bandmates before, and the steamingly drunk Pete Thomas thinking he was merely hanging on for dear life to the rhythm. He says he was later told by Britt Ekland that it was the best piece of drumming she'd ever heard.

Beyond Belief

The singles still weren't selling, though, despite a cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' From Head To Toe which came with a free copy of Get Happy!! During the promotional tour for the album Costello penned "the best lyrics I've ever written" to a tune producer Clive Langer had written and called it Shipbuilding. A critique of the Falklands War, dragging to a climax at the time, from the point of view of traditional shipyard areas back in business for the purposes of sending their sons off to war, it was given to Robert Wyatt, who took it to number 35. Costello's own version, with Chet Baker on trumpet, turned up on August 1983's Punch The Clock, produced by Langer and Alan Winstanley, itself a departure - their work, previously with Madness, gypsy Dexys and the Teardrop Explodes and later with the Hothouse Flowers and Morrissey, was far more contemporarily set then what Costello had previously been used to. The lead single, Pills And Soap, was released as The Imposter to circumvent label distribution problems, in shops nine days after recording to get it out before the General Election. It took him back into the top 40, as did proper lead single Every Day I Write The Book. The pop approach worked, taking the album to 3 in the UK and 24 on Billboard. Even The Imposter made a follow-up, although Peace In Our Time stalled just inside the top 50 the following April, while that summer saw his acting debut in Alan Bleasdale's Channel 4 dark sitcom Scully. Alongside this came Goodbye Cruel World, another Langer/Winstanley effort more tied up in the synth sounds and electronic drums of the day. In 1995 Rykodisc reissued the first ten years of albums with Costello providing fulsome liner notes. The notes for this album began "Congratulations! You've just purchased our worst album". He later quantified it as "the worst record of the best songs that I've written" - indeed, Roy Orbison later had a go at The Comedians - blaming himself - his divorce was being finalised during recording and he'd found his dark songs being turned into ubercommercial entities - and the mix as much as anything.

A third and final production credit, this time co-working on the Pogues' own milestone Rum, Sodomy And The Lash (one of Colin Meloy's favourite ever albums) came in 1985, after which he started dating their bassist Caitlin O'Riordan, whom he married a year later and remained with for sixteen years. Most of 1985 was taken off, bar the odd guest appearance, no.8 best of The Man, a one-off single with T-Bone Burnett under the name The Coward Brothers and a slot at Live Aid, singing All You Need Is Love solo. Towards the end of the year work commenced on phase two of Costello's career trajectory, preceded by a deed poll change back to his birth name. King Of America, released February 1986, is credited to The Costello Show Featuring The Attractions And Confederates, but the Attractions are on one track, the Confederates being a pick-up band selected by Costello and co-producer Burnett largely comprising sessioneers but also producer Mitchell Froom on keyboards, James Burton, Jerry Scheff and Ron Tutt from Elvis Presley's TCB Band, Beatles associate Jim Keltner, Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and New Orleans drumming great Earl Palmer. The cover shot of Costello in beard, crown and rhinestones, taken by Terence Donovan, says quite a bit about the contents - here was a man still as wry and vengeful as ever, but tempered by experience, alienation and growing nostalgia. New imprint Demon released the straight cover of Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood and then forgot about it as it became his first album since My Aim Is True to miss the top ten.

Brilliant Mistake

Costello's reaction was to start making a new Attractions-only album a month after King Of America's release. Blood And Chocolate, named after an incident on the Stiff tour that ended up with a crew member in hospital, saw Nick Lowe back behind the console and Costello styling himself as both Eamonn Singer and Napoleon Dynamite (the film character naming is a coincidence, apparenntly) as the pissed-off band channelled their frustration through an intensity of playing. It's not quite back to basics, as it often lacks the groove that made the Attractions their name, but it's impressive for a band that knew they were falling apart. Ever the contrarian, the singles were Tokyo Storm Warning and I Want You, both around the six and a half minute mark. This was the last album under Columbia's wing, but not before they'd bankrolled the Costello Sings Again world tour, five night residencies incorporating ever evolving backing bands around the Attractions and Confederates and a host of guests and for one night in each run a twelve foot high spinning game show wheel which picked out the setlist with the aid of audience volunteers.

After all that came some time away from the studio, moving to Warner Bros in the interim while Nieve and Pete Thomas became part of Jonathan Ross' house band on The Last Resort, before the single Veronica in 1989. Co-written by Paul McCartney, the story of his grandmother confined to a home with Alzheimer's struck some sort of chord, becoming Costello's highest-charting Top 40 hit in the US, peaking at 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and #1 on its modern rock chart as well as earning a Best Male Video nomination at the MTV VMAs. The associate album Spike saw Burnett come back on production duty and guests include Roger McGuinn, Chrissie Hynde, Christy Moore, Dónal Lunny, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tom Waits sideman Marc Ribot, New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint...oh, and Pete Thomas. All over the place genre-wise, Costello once labelled it a "comedy record", named after bandleader madman Spike Jones, but it's a comedy of human error if so, still growing old vengefully.

Vengeful in another sense was Bruce Thomas, whose The Big Wheel, published in August 1990, was, he maintains, a novel, but the code of 'The Singer', 'The Keyboard Player' etc wasn't difficult to crack. Costello doesn't come out of it well, although no worse than Thomas himself does in expressing the ennui and internal tensions of endless touring. Thomas for his own part described it as "not a whinge about being in the band, it's not even a whinge about any of the other guys, or any of that... I know that he would be more upset by me saying that he was overweight and he was sweaty than by cataloguing endless misdeeds, so it was really just to deflate him, but the book wasn't written just for that." Nieve and the other Thomas contributed to Mighty Like A Rose, released May 1991, which saw two McCartney co-writes and Costello unveil a new beard and long hair look to complement the best part of a year spent in LA. Another UK number five, Mitchell Froom and Donal Lunny were two of five producers and it shows in the muddled styles and faltering voyage of self-discovery offset by the sumptuous performances and complex lyrics. Reputedly Elvis isn't keen on this one either. Just two months later came the orchestral soundtrack album to Bleasdale drama G.B.H., 22 songs, 21 co-written by Costello and soundtrack composer Richard Harvey.

Although he'd promised a new rock album in 1992, next came another reflection of his growing fascination with classical music, January 1993's The Juliet Letters. Inspired by a newspaper story about letters from across the world being sent to Verona's main post office addressed to the Shakespeare femme fatale, the stories of love and betrayal were a collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet, who Costello had been a long time fan of. Nobody quite knew what to make of it, although for the genre number 18 was nothing bad. Nobody really knew what to make of Now Ain't The Time For Your Tears, written over a weekend to order as Wendy James of Transvision Vamp's solo album (single London's Brilliant) featuring Pete Thomas and some of Bob Dylan's band, portraying James as an eager to please industry puppet. She seemingly didn't get the gag, and both parties have long since washed their hands of it. The old days were represented by 2½ Years, the first three albums plus Live At The El Mocambo, recorded in 1978, starting a series of reissues that seemingly recharges itself every six months. (Tip: look for the Rhino Recordings 2002 double CD sets, with full Costello sleeve notes and a pile of demos, B-sides and live tracks)

Even for those who expected the unexpected from Costello by now, the next move came a a shock - the Attractions reformed. Initially for single Sulky Girl from another best of, Brutal Youth, which basically was that 1992 rock album re-recorded, Costello saw it as a sop to Warners, who wanted him to recapture his commercial height. His loudest album in a while - Costello claimed Bikini Kill as a roundabout influence - in context it is largely flavoured of going through old motions, although it reached number two, the last time a new Costello album would come anywhere near the top ten. A run of high profile gigs, guest appearances and even time as a manager on Fantasy Football League meant a decent profile for Kojak Variety, a completists-only covers album recorded over the previous five years which reached number 21. Costello also spent part of 1995 curating the South Bank's Meltdown festival, including performances by Jeff Buckley, the Brodskys, the Jazz Passengers, Donal Lunny, Marc Ribot, the Fairfield Four, June Tabor, BJ Cole and Bill Frisell, whose live collaboration with Elvis was later released as EP Deep Dead Blue. There was also God Give Me Strength, recorded with Burt Bacharach for the film Grace Of My Heart, Brian Eno collaboration My Dark Life for X Files soundtrack Songs In The Key Of X and another soundtrack with Richard Harvey, Jake's Progress. Both Attractions and Brodskys showed up for All This Useless Beauty in May 1996, originally planned as Costello taking back songs he'd written for others but less co-opted and patchwork then that sounds. A VH1 Storytellers and Later special A Case For Song followed in its wake, as did four singles in four weeks, one of which featured probably pop's only known Sleeper cover version.

What Do I Do Now?

Costello's association with Warners Bros came to an end in 1997, marked by Extreme Honey: The Very Best Of The Warner Bros. Years, featuring odd hip-hop inflected new track The Bridge I Burned featuring Supergrass' Danny Goffey on drums, while he worked with composer and Michael Nyman associate John Harle on Terror And Magnificence, publicly announced the end of the Attractions, guested on The Larry Sanders Show and cameod in Spice World. Meanwhile Polygram picked up Costello the musician, starting with a whole album orchestrated by Burt Bacharach. Winner of the 1998 Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals Grammy, Painted From Memory sounds completely out of time, even with the Bacharach fan club growing around the time, albeit not too far from Costello's own history of balladry. Bil Frisell's companion album The Sweetest Punch, which featured Costello on two tracks, followed months later.

A brief return to the chart's higher reaches came in mid-1999 with a cover of She, featured on the Notting Hill soundtrack, giving him just his sixth top 20 single, followed by a number 4 position for the latest Very Best Of. A cameo alongside Bacharach in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me coincided, as did an As Himself in 3rd Rock From The Sun (IMDB also registers The Simpsons, Two And A Half Men, The Kumars at No. 42, Talladega Nights and a David Letterman stand-in). In 2001, alongside For The Stars, a collaboration with Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, he took up UCLA’s Artist in Residence position, performing a series of concerts and a few tutorials, while working on what he labelled "a rowdy rhythm record". Although credited as a self-produced (one of four producers, in fact) solo album, When I Was Cruel saw Elvis backed by The Imposters, namely Nieve, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher, formerly of Cracker, on bass. Hailed as his own return to form album and reaching number 17 in the UK, it does stand up alongside his best post-Radar fare, alternating between vintage post-New Wave riffery and programmed beats and trickery. Leftovers album Cruel Smile is best left to completists.

When I Was Cruel No.2

In 2003 Costello was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame, Bruce Thomas turning up for the speech but not to perform, and got married for the third time, to jazz singer Diana Krall. This relationship inspired North, a collection of piano ballads released on the classical label Deutsche Grammophon, and it sounds written for them. As indeed does Krall's The Girl In The Other Room, featuring six Costello co-writes. In September 2004 came two albums released on the same day: Il Sogno, a symphonic score based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and composed for the Italian dance company Aterballetto, and The Delivery Man, recorded in the Mississippi Delta with the Imposters and guesting Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris, inevitably inflected with Southern country-blues roots but with no less passion. Aside from DVD collection The Right Spectacle 2005 was spent touring, reflected in the following year's My Flame Burns Blue, reconfiguring some of his back catalogue with Steve Nieve and The Metropole Orkest at Holland's North Sea Jazz Festival, while Pete Thomas' daughter Tennessee's band The Like briefly became hyped. Another joint project emerged in June 2006, The River In Reverse, Allen Toussaint co-authoring Costello's trawl through less regarded corners of his back catalogue plus one new song and four new co-writes, with the Imposters and Crescent City Horns to hand. Nominated for a Grammy, it still feels mannered and duly respectful to the source. At the time of writing Costello has authorised two new compilations, The Best Of The First 10 Years and Rock'N'Roll Music and contributed to Joni Mitchell and June Carter Cash tribute albums as well as Nieve's opera Welcome To The Voice, also featuring Sting and Robert Wyatt. Where he goes from here only he knows.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The start of Summer

Summer Sundae, in fact, the festival we report back on every year and will be doing so again this time. In advance of that, you have this week to vote for the band that will open the main stage on Friday 10th August by dropping off an online vote. As all the bands featured have Myspace links available, we feel we are in no position to influence your decision any particular way.

But we'd like to see the Hellset Orchestra.

Monday, June 25, 2007

If there's one thing we could do less of around Glastonbury..'s this sort of thing, where every year a mid-range newspaper files a piece by someone pretending they have no knowledge of modern culture about there being mud and people in tents who might be lower middle class. This one really earns Paul Dacre his bonus, as on being shocked equally by naked men with dreadlocks and Alex Turner's clothing is Petronella Wyatt, who will surely one day officially become the last person in Britain to use the word 'ghastly'.

Weekender : shorter than usual, because we're tired

FREE MUSIC: Vicarious garage rock thrills this week come from The Clutters, labelled "Nashville's answer to The Ramones" by Village Voice. Any band with two chords and long hair gets called someone's new Ramones these days so we can safely ignore that, as we can touring partners The Legendary Shack Shakers' declaration that they're "like The White Stripes but with good songs" which is clearly being unceasingly pixieish to the nth degree, but there's something in their full throttle garage rock, with Farfisa and male/female harmonies, that appeals on 9999 (Ways To Hate Us).

HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: There's not been a lot of slinkily brash hooky/rocky female fronted bands around of late, so filling the sizeable gap come Manchester power trio (hooker). Together in various forms since 1998, Plan B called them a combination of McLusky and Sleater-Kinney, which if it sounds too good to be true... is. Sorry. There's definite Kinneyisms in there, though, particularly in Zoe McVeigh's Corin Tucker-esque voice, along with the almost to be expected elements of pre-ubiquity Gossip (who they've supported), Throwing Muses and PJ Harvey. It's not too late for something to happen for them.

VISUAL REPRESENTATION: We were going to cover Glastonburys of old this week, but couldn't be bothered. Instead, here's Lovefoxxx and video director Cat Solen doing My Humps at karaoke, which reminded us of Chan Marshall's mystique shredding go at The Real Slim Shady.

IN OTHER NEWS: Despite what the parents say, The Cult Of Richey seems to be reaching new levels in New Zealand

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In shops tomorrow: 25/6


Much of a muchness this week again, mostly underwhelming returns and eked out singles. Actually Charlotte Hatherley's album didn't come out that long ago but it does feel like she's got left behind a little bit, even if the new Ash material is the weakest they've ever done, which demonstrates something. Siberia isn't the strongest choice but it should drive more people towards The Deep Blue, and to think that she could have had her pick of labels and instead has gone it almost completely alone. Also in that category Klaxons' pumped up cover of It's Not Over Yet isn't even the last single from Myths Of The Near Future with Totem On The Timeline lurking on the release schedules, while Fields, now lost somewhere in the distance from the hype that surrounded them at the end of 2006, put Song For The Fields back out on pointless 7". We're fairly sure Architecture In Helsinki have stronger in their locker than 12" Heart It Races, while My Vitriol's first release in five years is limited edition EP A Pyrrhic Victory, which doesn't sound like something they've had waiting to surprise us with all along. The Strange Death Of Liberal England's choral menace isn't best served on 7" Oh Solitude but it promises much for their forthcoming album. Single of the week, then, would probably be Boston, Mass octet The Young Republic, first signings to the label set up by the founders of End Of The Road festival. They sound like a band to keep an eye out for, 7" double A side Girl From The Northern States/Your Heart Belongs In Tennessee being slow burning orchestral indiefolk that should appeal to anyone keen on what the Belle & Sebastian/Camera Obscura axis might sound like in the hands of the Broken Family Band or Candidate.


We're so used now to demeaning any band with crossover potential as Coldplay wannabes that all it takes is a piano and a mildly pained vocal. So it is with Editors' An End Has A Start, which in parts is no less humungously riffed or immensely precise (or, frankly, patchy and Interpol-y) than The Back Room but has been anointed as the next stadium fillers not because Chris Urbanowicz is learning to use The Edge's effects pedals in places but because there's a piano and mildly pained vocals on some tracks, not least the A-list target precision single. It'll play on Grey's Anatomy, as we keep saying. Who could possibly have guessed, though, that while doomy new wave was filling our airwaves it'd be little old Art Brut who'd go off and be the American cult band du jour? It's A Bit Complicated is by necessity cleaner, less scrappy sounding than Bang Bang Rock And Roll but Eddie Argos' lyrics, luckily, aren't, still as self effacing, pop culture scared and love churning as ever. Still nobody really cares in Britain, which is the oddest thing of all. People have begun to care about the Postal Service, a very American college take on European pop-electronica, in their droves, which means good timing on Jimmy Tamburello's part, following last year's harder James Figurine sideline with the project that brought Ben Gibbard on board, Dntel. Dumb Luck. Guests this time include Conor Oberst, Grizzly Bear, Jenny Lewis and Lali Puna, all shaped to fit Tamburello's chameleonic electronica. Just the one reissue of note, crackly, half-formed debut Sebadoh album The Freed Man given an 52 track deluxe repackaging. No remastering, as you can't make that level of lo-fi sound any sharper.


Against all logic, it seems the ongoing Stooges reunion is working out fine, even if on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross the Ashetons resembled semi-retired sixty year olds roused from relaxing on their beachfront terrace. Iggy And The Stooges: Live In Detroit is from 2003, so nothing from The Weirdness, just lots of quasi-reptilian shape throwing and proto-punk throwdowns. Extras include a New York instore performance during which Iggy explains the songs' origins, archive material, Mike Watt reading from his journal and "sing-a-long versions". Gather the family round.


You may remember last year we blogged about Phonogram, a new six-part comic series about the music/magic interface set among the dreaming spires of Britpop, not that you had to necessarily understand Britpop to get it. Since then it's created a minor stir in the comics world, and yes, we do have all six right next to us. The trade edition of all of them together is out this week, with a new foreword by Luke Haines.

The Weekly Sweep

  • Arcade Fire - No Cars Go [mp3 from Indietastic]
  • Bat For Lashes - What's A Girl To Do [YouTube]
  • Black Box Recorder - It's Only The End Of The World
  • Darren Hayman - Bad Policewoman [Myspace]
  • The Go! Team - Grip Like A Vice [YouTube]
  • Goodbooks - Passchendaele [YouTube]
  • The Indelicates - Julia, We Don't Live In The 60s [YouTube] (Admittedly only fortified by three minutes' thought, the only other band we can think of who namecheck a member in a song title is the Monochrome Set (Lester Leaps In, B-I-D Spells Bid). Any advance?)
  • Interpol - The Heinrich Maneuver [mp3 from Rewriteable Content]
  • Jetplane Landing - Backlash Cop
  • Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit - Eyeless In Holloway [Myspace]
  • Jonquil - Lions [Myspace] (Jonquil's first album came out last September but they're only just building up speed. This is from an album to be released before the end of the year that could be something very special, existing somewhere on the locus of Beirut, Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective)
  • Los Campesinos! - You! Me! Dancing! [YouTube]
  • Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe [mp3 from Pitchfork]
  • Shout Out Louds - Tonight I Have To Leave It [mp3 from !tashed]
  • Spoon - The Underdog [mp3 from The Rawking Refuses To Stop!]
  • The Strange Death Of Liberal England - Oh Solitude [YouTube]
  • Sunset Rubdown - They Took A Vote And Said No [mp3 from Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Sitting Here Listening To This Recording]
  • Victorian English Gentlemens Club - Stupid As Wood [YouTube]
  • XX Teens - Darlin' [live YouTube]
  • The Young Republic - Girl From The Northern States [Myspace]
  • Saturday, June 23, 2007

    Light programming

    Keep forgetting to mention this, but Ian Jones, usually of TV Cream's Digi-Cream Times, spent a 24 hour period from midday last Monday listening to Radio 2 and keeping a log of everything notable that happened. Here's the intro and here's how it went. And sourced from the self same blog, Steven Adams of the Broken Family Band's tribute to the Today programme (21 minutes in)

    Glastonbury coverage update: a lot of message boards seem to be bellyaching about the standard of the presenting but we see no real difference from any other year, and this afternoon Lauren was on rare form like we haven't seen her on prime-time telly for years. Just a shame we ended up with five songs by Paolo Nutini, who seemed to be acting the giddy goat. Why couldn't he stand up straight and sing properly? Meanwhile, Klaxons urgently need a new sound tech, and we're not sure the note Lily Allen started Heart Of Glass with is physically possible using western scales.

    Pyramid selling

    As usual, then, we're cooped up at home watching the Glastonbury interactive options, and we wouldn't have it any other way. There's some fairly random selecting going on, especially missing The View on the main stage yesterday morning (although we're not complaining, and they're not on the advance Pyramid schedules) but screening Jack Penate roughly 24/7. Tokyo Police Club impressed, Arcade Fire had an odd TV mix but came through it (probably much better there, though), the Super Furries battled indifference, the Hold Steady are still a great live bar band, The Coral started on two highlight streams at once at one point, Bloc Party underwhelmed (and Matt is letting himself gradually go), Amy Winehouse was in good voice but otherwise phoned it in, Bright Eyes had a silly dalmation-styled outfit on and The Automatic covered Life During Wartime, in much the same way a mortician covers a stab victim with a blanket. Modest Mouse were left out, Kasabian fell heavily flat, the Arctic Monkeys do what they do and do it really well, and nobody mentioned Chas & Dave. Good. Friend Of STN Swiss Toni is picture blogging live and direct from the site, seemingly at the BBC's behest.

    Meanwhile, over on BBC1, Iggy Pop was startling people who thought they'd get in for free just to witness the usual light sub-Frankie Howerd badinage with Russell Brand:

    Thursday, June 21, 2007

    Tell it to the kids

    Maybe it's related to the passing of time and the expansion of the publishing base, but we couldn't help looking on in confusion at the Observer Music Monthly's Teen Issue, a full edition entirely devoted to there being a few bands around with teenagers in.

    Haven't there always been bands around with teenagers in? We know we always take 1996-97 as our point of reference - we can't help our formative years being those - but exactly the same happened then with the music press racing to laud the very youth of many a minorly successful band (Laverne, obviously: "The point isn't that we're young. Which is difficult to rectify when everyone's going 'Hey! Kenickie! You're about three, aren't you?' Yeah, that's right, we're about three"). It's a crutch that ageing journos will always use as a promotional tool. What we didn't have then, and this is probably Web 2.0 (gnnh)'s fault, is really young band of the Smoosh/Tiny Masters Of Today/Kitty Daisy & Lewis/Pull In Emergency type (and by the way, how on earth did Konnie's introduction to KD&L start?), but their selling point is as much novelty as sound. Pop music, since the supercharged jazz bands were replaced by amped guitars, has always been a game chiefly for, and by extension by, the young. Stop being shocked when the young give it a go.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    Stars collapsing

    Reports state ITV are ditching Stars In Their Eyes, presumably because Kate Thornton said she didn't want to take over and ITV have no other ideas. Inevitably, remember it this way:

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    Weekender : you know it is, it really is

    FREE MUSIC: Sage Francis (not to be confused with nu-folk contenders Page France) is a Rhode Island hip-hopper who falls squarely into the wordy, genre boundary testing, conscious raising, politically and socially fuelled, probably guilty-conscious on our part small part of the genre we do go for (cf Blackalicious, Aesop Rock, Cadence Weapon). Civil Obedience is from his third album Human The Death Dance, which also features contributions from Buck 65 and Jolie Holland, and flows like a fucker.

    HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: It's been, ooh, a month since we featured a twee/C86 indie referencing new band. So here's one now, Pocketbooks. Claiming formation through "a shared love of tambourines, handclaps, glockenspiels, jangly guitars and boy/girl harmonies" is the giveaway, but you've still got to do it right and they tremendously do, in the method of Heavenly, the Field Mice, the Pastels, a less self-absorbed Felt, the happy-sadness of Hefner and latterly your Boy Least Likely To and the Australian and Swedish janglepop movements. They released their debut single in May, featured on the accomplished Kids At The Club compilation and feature on Smalltown America's next Public Service Broadcast compilation along with the previously Myspace featured Pagan Wanderer Lu and Clone Quartet plus a song called Philately Will Get You Nowhere. They may also be the first band we've ever come across to cite Sleeper as an influence.

    VISUAL REPRESENTATION: Back to the gift that keeps on giving, television wondering what to make of this whole rock'n'roll thing, inspired in part by London Tonight's coverage of the White Stripes Chelsea Pensioners gig, which is local news reportage as only that sector can manage. How different it must have been in the old days. Or maybe not, as the London And South East opt-out of Nationwide in 1970 deems a murder trial and two dead (we assume) children to be less newsworthy than the news that the Beatles not winning the most popular band category in the Melody Maker reader's poll. It's left to Bob Wellings, who became the main programme's co-host a year later, and Brian Ash, whoever he was, to explain to square daddios who exactly these hirsute gentlemen calling themselves 'The' Led Zeppelin who took their place are. MM editor Ray Coleman contributes on his way to the All-England Eric Morecambe Lookalike Contest, but the real meat is Wellings' attempt to get to grips with an intelligent, snout-toting Robert Plant and John Bonham in the studio. Yeah, that cult of personality really died for good in 1970, especially around Led Zep.

    FALLING OFF A BLOG: Pop Will Eat My Blog knows which crates to dig in and shares a hell of a lot of it, including a whole Ultra Vivid Scene album, Paul Hardcastle's French version of 19, Heaven 17, Opus III, the Psychedelic Furs and Ned's Atomic Dustbin.

    EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: Oeuvreblog update! That word comes from Paraguay And Laos, Iain F of Delete As Appropriate's brilliantly titled (ahem) Bluetones-specific blog. Tom 'Freaky Trigger' Ewing has spotted a movement afoot to try and make sense of too.

    IN OTHER NEWS: WMFU strike gold again with The Sixty Second Song Remix Contest, an attempt to pare down the classics to less than a minute. A winner has already been decided, but, in contravention of the original idea, the entries could keep you going all week.

    Sunday, June 17, 2007

    In shops tomorrow: 18/6


    What we try to do in this section is filter out the wheat, the chaff and the underwhelming (hello there, Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors) and leaven it down to the bitter quick of goodness. Not even much of that this week, as all we're left with is the not as good as most of the album but you've got to like them Direct Hit by Art Brut and Seasick Steve's British indie kid easily pleasing three string Missisippi delta blues It's All Good.


    There are two things of note about Jetplane Landing's Backlash Cop (says 18th June on their website, that's what we're running with). One is that whenever we mention Jetplane Landing on STN, Jetplane Landing's official website links to it on the very front page, which is a smart thing for Jetplane Landing to do, and we heartily commend Jetplane Landing for their driving our visitor numbers up. Jetplane Landing, Jetplane Landing, Jetplane Landing. The other thing of note is they've made a truly remarkable album, which helps. Just as melodic post-hardcore of the type their first two albums had traded in becomes popular, they've gone and made a concept album - Andrew Ferris calls it one, so it is one - which we can only pigeonhole as Fugazi meets the Minutemen to go funk, a coagulation of Ferris' evangelising sing/shout/talk/rap vocals, oblique/provocative/meaningful lyrics, blowtorch riffs, broken beat rhythms, soulful moves and a litany of reference points (just from the titles we get Dizzy Gillespie, Les Savy Fav, Sam Cooke, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Motown bassist James Jamerson and black civil rights poet Sonia Sanchez). And cowbell. And it just gets better on repeated listens. Could this finally be their time? (Checks weight of press coverage) Oh. Bugger. Still, it's a spectacular development and probably the standout full-on rock record of the first half of 2007. A somewhat more celebrated exponent of the dark art of bludgeoning listeners into submission with enormous riffs is Jack White, who after those curious rhythm-led piano/marimba moments on Get Behind Me Satan has by and large returned to the distort pedal on Icky Thump. See, ver Stripes could have continued on the path loosely following their first three albums of emotional garage blues and they'd now be as relevant as the Datsuns. That they continue to make complete leaps of faith every time they book a couple of weeks in a recording studio and sell records by the truckload restores your faith in 'our' world on a biennual basis. It sounds variously like Led Zep, compressed prog, show tunes from Hades, heavy melodics, the electrified lovers' blues they were doing five years ago and all sorts of oddness besides. You shouldn't expect any less, really. Norway's Sondre Lerche was tipped as a natural melodic successor to the likes of Elvis Costello (who invited him on tour), Difford & Tilbrook and Paddy McAloon a couple of years ago, then deliberately lost some ground with an odd jazz album. Phantom Punch sees him regain his composure, remaining the doomed romantic while either touching the soul or piling into what Costello refers to as "rowdy rhythm". He's become one to watch again. Speaking of Costello, his first ten years have been reissued as eight quid digipacks, we don't even think for the first time in Sweeping The Nation's lifespan. Universal, Demon, Rykodisc, whoever, they'll flog this stuff to death. We're going to do an Illustrated Guide To Elvis Costello, perhaps even this week given how spectacularly More Songs... crashed and burned early, so for the time being here's a chronological list of buy links: My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy!!, Trust, Almost Blue, Imperial Bedroom, Punch The Clock, Goodbye Cruel World, King Of America, Blood And Chocolate. The former Charles Thompson IV actually recorded his first Frank Black solo album before he'd got round to checking the toner and pressing the big red go button on the fax to Kim and David, having decided that as Joey Santiago was on said album it might be a touch indelicate. Originally planned as a cover projec, that album came out two months after the split was made public (the fateful Mark Radcliffe Hit The North interview into which he casually dropped the breakup news sees Radcliffe refer to a promo copy) and as such sounds of a piece with that band's later work. Inevitably it's also the high water mark of a solo career that's if not exactly spluttered along then mostly flattered to deceive, although 93-03: The Best Of Frank Black does a more than reasonable job of collating it all together. Ever seen the video Adam & Joe made for Dog Gone? While we're on the subject of influential bands who broke up to go solo for a bit, the Go-Betweens' Robert Forster and Grant McLennan's four solo offerings each, not without merit but again nothing compared to the parent band, have been cherrypicked for the jointly credited Intermission - The Best Of The Solo Recordings 1990-1997.

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Arcade Fire - No Cars Go [mp3 from Indietastic] (As well as that whole basketball farrago, which need not concern any of us. Everyone hates Neon Bible now, don't they?)
  • Bat For Lashes - What's A Girl To Do [YouTube]
  • The Be Be See - Disney Eyes [YouTube]
  • Bloc Party - Hunting For Witches [YouTube]
  • Blood Red Shoes - It's Getting Boring By The Sea [YouTube]
  • Future Of The Left - Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood [YouTube]
  • Goodbooks - Passchendaele [YouTube]
  • Grizzly Bear - On A Neck, On A Spit [mp3 from Very Young Millionaire]
  • Interpol - The Heinrich Maneuver [mp3 from Rewriteable Content]
  • Jetplane Landing - Climbing Up The Face Of Miles Davis [Myspace]
  • Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit - Eyeless In Holloway [Myspace]
  • Lightspeed Champion - Galaxy Of The Lost [YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - You! Me! Dancing! [YouTube]
  • Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe [mp3 from Pitchfork]
  • Robert Lloyd - The Part Of The Anchor
  • Spoon - The Underdog [mp3 from The Rawking Refuses To Stop!]
  • The Twilight Sad - Walking For Two Hours [mp3 from Orangejello Lemonjello]
  • Victorian English Gentlemens Club - Stupid As Wood [YouTube]
  • The White Stripes - Icky Thump [YouTube]
  • XX Teens - Darlin' [Myspace]
  • Saturday, June 16, 2007

    This would be rubbish with Fearne'n'Reggie, wouldn't it?

    Note a) current serious current affairs crusader Nicky Campbell and b) the fact that it was once Tim Westwood's ethnicity that was up for most debate well ahead of his language.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    More Songs To Learn And Sing #...erm...

    Well, this is interesting. As of this moment, we seem to have fallen a week short of the promised twenty new additions to the Songs To Learn And Sing canon with no new write-ups or mp3s to add, and not for the want of trying. This, frankly, makes us look massively foolish in front of all our cyberfriends. We can only apologise.

    And make a contingency plan! So we'll pretend that it was always going to be twelve new entrants and cast a black cloth over the rest of the frankly sorry affair. Except... we're going to rework it as a monthly feature. One a month, luckily for our outbox, always on the first of the month, starting on July 1st, and the current conglomerate list eventually operating as a one stop shop for the 42 submissions to date (43, actually, we'll stick a link up to one we received too late to put in the original selection but they posted on their own homepage). Again, get in touch if you're interested in the long term, as even in this state we think we can get someone to cover July.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    More Songs To Learn And Sing #12

    Our asking around for people to recommend a song for the hoi polloi progresses through Mark X of Broken TV and, more pertinently, Broken FM:

    Stereo Total - L' Amour À 3

    For me at least, Stereo Total seem to be one of those bands that seep into the consciousness by way of gentle osmosis. Classifying themselves as part of the chanson- electro- nonelectro- garage- rock'n'roll- french-pop- rock-à-billy- disco- international- underground, it's entirely possible that you've heard at least half-a-dozen songs by the duo, but haven't actually heard of them. Since first encountering the band (somehow - I've no idea how I first discovered them, other than it was probably via some file-sharing network), I've made a point of buying each one of their ten or so albums to date (it helps that most of them are on eMusic, of course). These don't just take in an almost alarming number of musical styles, but also languages; performing principally in French, German and English, the band have also found the time to take in other languages such as Japanese, Spanish and Turkish.

    Of the [checks iTunes] 164 songs I've managed to amass from the polyglotic popsmiths, there can surely be none finer than their ode to... how best to put it? Erm, the beast with three backs? Listening to L'Amour À 3 is a magnificent way to spend three minutes of your life. Sneaking up on the innocent listener by way of a catchy, bouncy slice of Euro-trip-hop, it grabs a hold of the part of the frontal lobe that is most susceptible to catchy summer pop splendidness and does all kinds of unspeakable things to it. With tongues. Well, that's the French for you, I suppose.

    Handily, for any Stereo Total fans who find themselves generally lacking in the French-speaking department, the album that contains L'Amour À 3 - the quite magnificent Musique Automatique - also plays host to an English-language version of the song, so we can actually find out what it's all about. To be fair, the repeated use of the words 'trois', 'amour' and assorted groaning noises that make up a large proportion of the track should provide ample evidence as to the content of the lyrics, but some of us need it spelling out.

    Another handy side-effect of the song is that it goes a reasonable way to proving the seldom-asked question: Just Which Language Is the Best One for Singing In? Way back in the days of Audiogalaxy, I managed to source the German-language version of the song, making up a not-quite-holy trinity of versions of the same song about multiplayer coitus. I could probably knock up a quick graph on the results of this, but resisting the urge to fire up Excel, it is German that comes last out of the three (so to speak), with the preponderance of glottal stops required by the language hardly serving a flowing, breathy pop song about nookie very well. English slips into second position, not because of any major failing relating to the language of Shakespeare, but partly because the song was originally written on French and translated, and partly because a French tongue does lend itself magnificently well to that kind of song. Just ask Jane Birkin.

    Come to think of it, all of this might go some way to explaining how Serge Gainsbourg got so much 'action' despite looking quite a lot like Moe Szyslak. I'm kind of wishing I'd paid more attention at French lessons in school instead of excitedly exchanging lines from Absolutely with my classmates. As it is, thanks to Stereo Total, I've picked up several phrases in French that could quite conceivably see me either arrested or quite unexpectedly happy were I to try and use them the next time I find myself in Boulogne. Comme ci, comme ça.

    The complete collection

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    More Songs To Learn And Sing #11

    For today's choice of a song that everyone should take to their hearts, we turn to Jamila from Fucking Dance:

    Gang Of Four - Anthrax

    So I have just spent the past few days scrawling through my iTunes and complaining that my collection of music is not obscure enough. To the average radio listener or music fan it is rather ‘out there’, but to the world of bloggers it’s nothing special. Instead of choosing something completely and totally different, I’ve gone for a track by my second favourite band in the world.

    One day a few years ago I was bored (surprise surprise), and playing my dad’s vinyl. I stumbled across a bright pink 7" sleeve titled "the sleeve for a Gang Of Four recording of Damaged Goods, Love Like Anthrax and Armalite Rifle". The sleeve was naturally a little worn out, but in pretty fine condition considering it was eleven years my senior.

    Often classed under post-punk, Gang Of Four formed at university in Leeds in 1977 through a love of politics and an urge to make pop songs. These songs would go on to influence far and wide, and without Gang Of Four bands like The Rapture, Bloc Party, The Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand wouldn’t exist today. Their sound is completely modern, despite being 30 years old. At the time Gang Of Four were popular, but managed to fade into the background after At Home He’s A Tourist was banned by the BBC (for the word "rubbers" of all things) and their label began to push Duran Duran instead.

    Released in 1978, Love Like Anthrax was Gang Of Four’s first single. It was later re-recorded as Anthrax and drenched in the band’s angular and definitive sound. The original recording is my favourite version (just who doesn’t love that crackling sound?) but Anthrax is awkward in all the right places. I’d have absolutely no clue how you would dance to this track sensibly.

    It all begins with an introduction of screaming guitars and feedback. Then the infectious and repetitive drumbeat kicks in, joined by the heavy bass line. It’s almost at the halfway point before anyone even begins to think about lyrics. Jon King and Andy Gill spice things up with their distinctive, monotone speeches, talking over the top of one another. "Love will get you like a case of anthrax, and that’s something I don’t wanna catch," echoes the sentiments of heartbroken and bitter people worldwide and is possibly the best and most un-sloppy way of describing love ever. Gang Of Four have always been clever with their quietly politicised lyrics (and then sometimes not so quietly), commenting on society and the way of life. "The things I’m doing aren’t good for my health," describes exactly the type of hedonistic behaviour that comes as a result of falling in and out of love. Probably best to try and avoid love altogether in that case.

    The complete collection

    Weekender : much respected, apparently

    Before any of that pop music nonsense, hearty congratulations to Tim AKA The Daily Growl, who became a father on Tuesday. Such is the way of Web 2.0 that Isobel has had a Myspace since December.

    FREE MUSIC: A good portion of Brighton's much discussed musical fortunes over the last few years can be traced back to Monster Bobby. His Totally Bored club nights and DIY publications helped launch British Sea Power, the Electric Soft Parade, Brakes, 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster, The Tenderfoot and so forth, some of whom he's been tour DJ and guest musician for. More famously he then became 'concept engineer' (his term) of the Pipettes, developing their schtick and bringing the girls (and Cassette boys, with himself as guitarist) together. And he's working on a book about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Somewhere in between he's found time to produce oddball short electronically enhanced pop songs, some of which are being collected together under the title Gaps for release in mid-July. The Closest Experience To That Of Being With You Is The Experience Of Taking Drugs - title! - sounds like an English Suburban Kids.../Jens Lekman type being hotwired.

    HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: Belfast's The Clone Quartet have a solid label grounding, having been together since the dawn of the decade yet only just releasing their first single on the safe hands of Tigertrap Recordings (Popular Workshop, Look See Proof, Tiny Masters Of Today if you really must) and having entrusted their album to Smalltown America (Jetplane Landing, Young Playthings, Oppenheimer). They know their way round retro-modernist electro and yearning melodies, but with dashes of non-smug indie disco, taut dynamics and occasionally Biffy Clyro riffage and Bright Eyes heartbreak. A similar cult following isn't out of the question.

    VISUAL REPRESENTATION: Television is an endlessly fascinating subject for our purposes, and we've found some absolute crackers for future use here. We must however first examine that whole thorny subject of songs in advertising, forever tainted with that nebulous brush of 'selling out', although not so much these days even as we're assailed between shows by Deerhoof with Robinson's fruit juice and in America American Idol, Ford and Modest Mouse or Outback Steakhouse and Of Montreal. And to think Smirnoff/Pixies was considered recherche in its day. The one thing you don't get a lot of, conversely, is hits coming from adverts, as there was a time you could get anything into the charts if the pitch was good enough but nobody seems to bother any more. Apart from exceptional circumstances, obviously. With that in mind, they can get away with anything - what reflects the nature of a long cruise than Lust For Life? (The British version isn't on YouTube as far as we can tell but it's a lot more sedate)

    VIRAL MARKETING: Just to prove the whole of Editors' new album An End Has A Start isn't as tailor made for Grey's Anatomy as the single, they popped by Jools' gaff to show off album highlight The Racing Rats. Note that Tom Smith still does that cupping-eyes-and-mike thing while seated at a piano. The title track, here recorded at the Roundhouse in May, is no slouch either.

    FALLING OFF A BLOG: The Post Punk Progressive Pop Party isn't an mp3 blog for once, but instead traverses the turn of the 80s period in on this day factoids, blog links, embeds and so forth.

    EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: It's already getting difficult to remember which single act review blogs we've covered. We're fairly sure these three are new, though, and they're very worthwhile entries to the canon, Bjorkian Hyper-Ballads, Magnetic Fields fandom All My Little Words and John Cale-centric Fragments Of A Cale Season. No Fall song-by-song commentary yet, as far as we can tell. Come on, it's not that tricky if there's already two doing Robert Pollard's collected works!

    IN OTHER NEWS: We thought we'd mentioned this before but apparently didn't given we received reminder correspondence about it last week, and as we don't seem to be a repository for this kind of thing we might as well flag it up. It's The Solaris Bug Situation, involving Dark Side Of The Moon/Wizard Of Oz-style coincidences between the original Russian version of Solaris and Brian Miller's The Lightning Bug Situation. As we don't have a copy of the film to hand and have never previously heard of Miller or his band The Speakers we cannot vouch for its veracity, but we have a broad audience so maybe you have.

    Sunday, June 10, 2007

    More Songs To Learn And Sing #10

    Double figures for this cavalcade of criterion, and the fortieth recommendation in total comes on behalf of Ian from Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From?:

    Poppy Factory - 7x7

    I was going to do My Life Story's Angel. But Doug did that band last time around, and even though it deserves it, and it's seven minutes long which gives me a good amount of source material, that's not what we're doing today.

    Having ruled out making a decision about which was One Dove's finest moment (they were, for the uninitiated, a band that that bird who used to go out with Pete Doherty was in), or whether Eurovision is really suitable, we come to Poppy Factory.

    Bradford's Poppy Factory kicked around at the start of the 1990s, signed to Chrysalis, and after a 12" promo of Drug House, 7x7 was their debut single. Obviously, you all know that it took the charts by storm, and the rest is rock and roll history, stadium gigs, and supermodels.

    Well, not quite.

    All good songs contain an essential truth of one kind or another. In Poppy Factory's case, that truth is that "forty-nine is only seven times seven." You can't argue with that, really.

    Much like probably a thousand or so St Etienne songs, the chief refrain is about a 1960s film - in this case, "Call me Charlie Bubbles" is a reference to an Albert Finney film, but the rest of it... let's just say I think you can overanalyse lyrics. "It's a matter of great indifference to me how your greatest lie came true"?

    So what happened to Poppy Factory? 3 singles but debut album "Good Time" failed to appear, and then they vanished. I have the vague idea that two of them ended up in Embrace, but I may have made that up. They'd never have fulfilled their early promise. No-one ever does.

    The complete collection

    In shops tomorrow: 11/6


    The White Stripes' return single Icky Thump has spent the last few weeks merrily splitting the audience, which we suspect is just how Jack and Meg wanted it. Coruscatingly stratospheric guitar solos with added feedback, prog keyboard fills, time changes aplenty, a manaical vocal about being drawn in by a Mexican senorita charmer that segues into a stab at anti-immigration and Meg White drumming as only she can. Nobody else does this, and that's a very, very good thing. They've gone back to being completely, wilfully obfusticatory mad, everyone. The mixed sex dual instrument attack of Blood Red Shoes gets very lazily compared to the Stripes despite being of a completely different hue, that of superior relentless indie disco rock. Laura-Mary and Steven have gone the limited edition 7" route for best single yet It's Getting Boring By The Sea, a title surely not unconnected to their Brighton base, where it's said everyone in a band knows each other by rote. Speaking of which, Actress Hands, recent tour support for Electric Soft Parade, fronted by Matt Eaton, who was in a previous band of Eamon Hamilton's and appears on his Brakes' Give Blood album, with keyboards from British Sea Power's cornet for hire Phil Sumner, Johny Lamb of touted psych-folkers Thirty Pounds Of Bone on bass and Alex White of ESP/Brakes on guitar. We could continue, but we'll instead talk up the lilting Teenage Fanclub harmonics of Come The Summer Days. The Be Be See - teetering on the edge of bandname culpability, you have to say - describe themselves alternately as "pre punk psychotronic linear tekno drone pop from nowhere" and "psychotronic glam pop with a subliminal golf-rave element", which actually means Eno-era Roxy Music meets Pulp meets piano pop (and psychotronica, we must assume) judging by second single Disney Eyes. They share an EMI spinoff label with The Research, which makes sense. Maximo Park's less frenetic growing up period hasn't appealed to everyone but Books From Boxes proves there's songwriting heart underneath the breaks and hats. The Rumble Strips search for the re-released soul rebels on Motorcycle, Salford art-electropop duo (Blood Red Shoes template gender assignation, since you ask) The Ting Tings - again, something has to be done about band names nowadays - take time out from acting the Hill's Angels to the Benny Hill and Bob Todd of the nation's A&R men to issue limited edition 7" summer disco-funk smash That's Not My Name, MIA breaks cover with baile funk grower 12" Boyz, the Broken Family Band's run of alt-country wryness continues on 7" Love Your Man Love Your Woman, and with a new Tegan & Sara album out in America next July their UK label go and reissue the three year old Walking With A Ghost. Well done. We'll close with Gossip's Listen Up! even though the re-recorded version is rubbish and it comes backed with a cheesy house track's worth of remixes in lieu of having anything new left to use.


    Is it really the case that everyone who bought Life Without Buildings' sole album Any Other City at the time went on to form a band? No, because we did and we can't play a note. Regardless, like a kind of 90s Young Marble Giants, while nobody has properly sounded like them since (or before, come to it) it certainly feels like it at times, there being an ever growing collection of bands and band members paying outward homage to the jarringly Fall-angular art-rock and Sue Tompkins' semi-manaical streams of repetitive consciousness. Ask fully paid up supporters Bloc Party, Maximo Park (Paul Smith is rarely slow to namecheck them), Los Campesinos!, Love Is All... hell, Rose Pipette once named PS Exclusive one of her favourite songs ever. Apparently the band prefer the Australian live recording Live At The Annandale Hotel to the album, and you can see why from its hyperelectric kinetic energy. It even starts with an unreleased track, Liberty Feelup, and if the rest mean nothing to you Any Other City is currently less than a fiver on Amazon. If only they'd emerged a couple of years later... Here's a link the likes of us jump at - Glen Johnson of Piano Magic is occasionally credited with discovering LWB and guitarist Robert Johnstone guested on one of their albums. Johnson's ever evolving collective have never had anything like the credit they deserve for their wry eclectic electronically enhanced post-shoegazing. Seventh album proper Part Monster, produced by Guy Fixsen (one of Loveless' billion engineers, also worked for Pixies, Stereolab, the Breeders and Throwing Muses), keeps the inventiveness quotient high, matching up guitar swells and pedal play with quiet seething and enigmatic illustrations. We wrote about the Experimental Pop Band's Tinsel Stars the other week in a similar vein, and that's properly out now. Somewhere higher up the expected sales graph Queens Of The Stone Age are the last of the heavy riffers on Era Vulgaris; the Stills were supposed to be big sellers round about the New Rock Revolution but Without Feathers seems to be crawling out unnoticed; and former Josef K frontman Paul Haig releases his first non-instrumental album in ten years, the twisting electropop of Electronik Audience.

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Andrew Bird - Heretics [mp3 from The Yellow Stereo]
  • Bat For Lashes - What's A Girl To Do [YouTube]
  • The Be Be See - Disney Eyes [YouTube]
  • Belle & Sebastian - I'm Waking Up To Us [live YouTube] (Interesting thing here is that, although Stuart denies it, it's rumoured to be about his and Isobel's breakup, and there's Isobel there sharing a Later With Jools Holland stage and at one stage looking magnificently pissed off)
  • Bloc Party - Hunting For Witches [mp3 from Confessions Of A Music Addict]
  • Blood Red Shoes - It's Getting Boring By The Sea [YouTube]
  • Coltrane Motion - They Can't Mic The Deep End [mp3 from The Smudge Of Ashen Fluff]
  • Future Of The Left - Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood [YouTube]
  • Go! Team - Grip Like A Vice [mp3 from (Music is my) Occupation]
  • Goodbooks - Passchendaele [YouTube]
  • Interpol - The Heinrich Maneuver [mp3 from Rewriteable Content]
  • Los Campesinos! - You! Me! Dancing! [YouTube]
  • Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe [mp3 from Pitchfork]
  • Piano Magic - England's Always Better (As You're Pulling Away)
  • The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name [Myspace]
  • Von Sudenfed - Fledermaus Can't Get Enough [YouTube]
  • White Rabbits - The Plot [Myspace]
  • The White Stripes - Icky Thump [YouTube]
  • XX Teens - Darlin [Myspace]
  • Young Marble Giants - Wurlitzer Jukebox