Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Illustrated Guide To... Half Man Half Biscuit

Most of the time when constructing an Illustrated Guide we set out to find the artist's place in history, cutting through the dense forest of a worthwhile back catalogue and demonstrating their influence on the modern day while annotating every bit of change and cut and thrust in the interim. This one isn't like that. With a few deviations, their sound is essentially a streamlined jangle. They can't have sold five figure totals of one new album in the last twenty years. They are never played on daytime radio, have made only two television appearances (in 1985 and 1998), do very few interviews, didn't have their photo taken for years and don't have a hope in hell of selling records anywhere outside a certain British demographic. And yet to that strata of people they matter intensely, selling out the London Astoria in 2003, and a band for whom literally anywhere from first album to latest is a good place to start. John Peel had them in twelve times; Andy Kershaw called them "England's greatest folk group" and "the most complete and authentic British group since The Clash". Essentially, if you don't like Half Man Half Biscuit we don't want to know you.

Nigel Blackwell, born 1964 in Birkenhead, spent the first few years out of school writing for fanzines and spending time at the library while signing on, the resultant brow-crossing knowledge of football and music minutiae on one side and literature and UK geography on the other crossing when he met well travelled local bassist Neil Crossley. They spent time writing songs for their own pleasure until Blackwell's brother Simon and drummer Paul Wright pitched in. It's said that, as Blackwell had earned some employment there, they were able to cut an album at Liverpool's Vulcan Studios on the relative cheap to test out the new eight-track studio, with David Lloyd adding keyboards. The tape was pitched around a few labels, including Factory, until local promoter Geoff Davies heard it, decided "if the tape was half as good as the titles then I'd want to record this group" and signed them to his Probe Plus label. A few more songs later the whole package was titled Back In The DHSS and sent to John Peel, who picked up on it immediately ("His song titles and his observations were, and still are, just spot on. I always thought it was a shame that punk never had its own Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and, while Nigel clearly wasn't that, he was there in spirit. I couldn't stop playing it."). While there had been bands, most notably the Fall, who could deal in low and high culture at the same time, there was a uniqueness to the cross-referencing, surreal one-liners (Blackwell: "I just do throwaway lines to be laughed at once, which is why we have to back it up with some semblance of a tune"), indicativeness of the ennui of the disenfranchised and general social and cultural savagery. It became the biggest selling independent album of 1986, totalling an estimated 200,000+ sales, and earned it makers a Glastonbury slot and a place on the NME's celebrated C86 compilation, where despite sharing a guitar sound with many around them they still stood out a mile.

99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd

A follow-up came in the form of the Trumpton Riots EP, an indie chart number one which threw its production values at a wall against tales of Subbuteo, rock pretensions and stop-motion animated anarchy, as performed on Whistle Test. Blackwell appeared on Radio 4's Midweek; famously, however, they twice refused to go to Newcastle for The Tube as Tranmere Rovers were playing on the same night. Couldn't the booker have waited for an away game?

As another single, Dickie Davies Eyes, knocked on the door of the proper charts Blackwell decided to throw in his lot, retiring the band at their height in 1987. A mostly recorded album was put out under the title Back Again In The DHSS, featuring eight tracks of equally high quality plus two from the Trumpton Riots EP and a live track on the cassette. You can't get this any more; what you can get is ACD, the 1988 reissue that takes off those add-ons (that EP appears in full at the end of Back In The DHSS' CD now), slips in an unreleased Peel session song - Carry On Cremating, supposedly left off the original version for taste reasons as it's about the problems of cremating Hattie Jacques, although this is questionable given the tracks chosen include Rod Hull Is Alive - Why?, The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman and Arthur's Farm, in which amputees Arthur Askey and Douglas Bader re-enact Animal Farm to their own undextrousness - and adds nine first album live songs recorded in Sheffield.

Rod Hull Is Alive - Why?

Blackwell let it be known that he was missing daytime TV too much, although much later he admitted "I felt as if I needed some time to 'carry on as I was before' in order to write the same sort of songs. I think otherwise, tunes about 'big skies' and 'girls' eyes' would have surfaced menacingly, and band meetings pertaining to production values may have been arranged. Not good, that." Everyone disappeared from view for a while until 1990, when Blackwell used Peel's show to announce a reformation followed by two more singles, the still dead-on Let's Not and, for some reason, a version of No Regrets (as in Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien) with briefly omnipresent actress Margi Clarke. The 1991 album McIntyre Treadmore And Davitt - title from the classic Barnstoneworth United frontline, from the Golden Gordon episode of Michael Palin's comedy series Ripping Yarns - showed the band had musically progressed just far enough from their unstructured shambling roots while the reference points and one-liners came thick and mid-paced.

Everything's A.O.R.

And we kind of progress from there, really. 1993's This Leaden Pall is a lesser work but likes its musical reference points (Running Order Squabble Fest) and literate modern life satire (Improv Workshop Mimeshow Gobshite). Dave Lloyd and Paul Wright left at this point, Carl Alty arriving on drums, and with gigs becoming more infrequent and more often than not in out of the way places Simon Blackwell departed a year later, Ian Jackson taking up bass with Neil Crossley moving across to guitar for a bit until replacement Ken Hancock arrived. 1995's Some Call It Godcore isn't a high point either, although almost sensitive closer Tour Jacket With Detachable Sleeves more than makes up for it. Carl Henry took over the drumstool after 1996's Eno Collaboration EP, which very wasn't what it said, and that lineup continues to this day.

After nearly signing to V2, 1997's Voyage To The Bottom Of The Road came out once again on Probe Plus - to which, incidentally, the band have never signed a contract - and was arguably their best post-reformation album to date, featuring yet more music industry cynicism, the celebrated Middle England excoriation Paintball's Coming Home and ITMA, which is just Blackwell reeling off specifications from job adverts. Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral came a year later, previewed by an appearance on cult Channel 4 overnight sport show Under The Moon, and continued the run of form, featuring Four Skinny Indie Kids, You're Hard and most spectacularly of all the six and a half Millennium-critiquing minutes of A Country Practice. Asked by the Guardian in February to select a song that defines Englishness, Eliza Carthy picked it out: "It's incredibly wordy and conversational, with Nigel Blackwell talking over beats and making up almost nursery rhymes. In this song, Blackwell goes all over the country to pick apart English people at our basest: trying to be famous or making money living on the streets rearing fat cows...The song seems over-clever and flippant, but it's bitter and very funny, which is very English: pathos disguised by wit and emotional detachment. It's like a camera flying over the country, zooming in and out; like watching a film of England." John Peel, curating Meltdown at the Queen Elizabeth Hall that year, asked them to support Lonnie Donegan.

A Country Practice

And the hits just kept on coming. 2000's Trouble Over Bridgwater, from which Look Dad No Tunes had emerged as a single the previous year, kicked off with the Guilty Pleasures-wrecking Irk The Purists and added Twenty Four Hour Garage People to the all time classics list. Stylistically scattergun, from Dylan cribbing to a deep house track about a late night Radio 2 DJ, it's becoming an increasingly popular choice as the band's all time high water mark.

Uffington Wassail

Not that the descent was at all sharp. A 2001 six track EP, Editor's Recommendation, was topped and tailed by Bob Wilson - Anchorman, which grabbed the Mirror's attention, and Vatican Broadside, which Frank Turner occasionally covers live. 2002's Cammell Laird Social Club established a holding pattern, adding high quality spoken word efforts The Referee's Alphabet and and Breaking News, which 2003's Saucy Haulage Ballads EP maintained, bar the bluegrass version of Trumpton Riots retitled On Finding the Studio Banjo, and 2005's Achtung Bono broke out of with crowd chantalong Joy Division Oven Gloves and the much discussed Shit Arm Bad Tattoo (Nigel says it isn't about them, but it's full of allusions to the Libertines) Stylus and Popmatters both used it as a cue to try and explain them to international online audiences.

Upon Westminster Bridge

And as of yesterday, the tally of proper albums made eleven with the release of CSI: Ambleside. Not, to be honest, in our all time HMHB top three, but miles ahead of most others, National Shite Day another in a long line of standout album closers. More than anyone else of note to us, this is a band who have completely done things their own way and picked up an army of loyal fans (reputedly including Jarvis Cocker, Frank Skinner, Tracy Emin and Robbie Williams) almost by chance, simultaneously flying the flag for working class stasis and knowledgeable cultural observant, the pub philosopher with first class honours from the University Of Life. By the way, this might be the first extended piece about HMHB that doesn't just quote titles and lyrics for the sake of it. It's always been about far more than that.

FURTHER LISTENING: the blogger we're naming our first born after this week is the one who has uploaded nearly every Peel session song ever.

Monday, April 28, 2008

We'll keep going on about it, y'know

Muxtape Challenge ahoy! We still have some tricky slots to fill, mostly in the early years, and really Muxtape isn't that hard to handle.

Meanwhile, while we prevaricate over our Primer idea Left And To The Back steals in with an extraordinary downloadable compilation of largely British and certainly not American 60s psychedelia, including Cook & Moore's glorious Bedazzled (fuck off, Fraser and Hurley, and fuck off BBC1 for continually showing that version), the Pretty Things, the Easybeats well post-Friday On My Mind, a disguised Simon Dupree and The Big Sound (Kites, yes?), early Steve Hillage, early Mick Jones (not that one, the one out of Foreigner who is also Mark Ronson's stepdad) and Elton John and Supertramp's Roger Hodgson together in 1969. This sort of thing is why we will only ever be makeweights in this music blogging business.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Weekender : all just jealous

- Some truths: most teen bands involved in the 'all age' scene wouldn't get a second listen were the members any older; nobody wants Big Beat back or a Mighty Boosh festival (ooh, wonder if the Horrors and Robots In Disguise are free at all); Kate Jackson's new haircut makes her look like Sharon Osbourne; the country's only reliable band are Half Man Half Biscuit. Agreed? Agreed. You know what album eleven CSI: Ambleside will sound like, of course, but that's hardly the point, we're buying and listening to these albums to see what Nigel Blackwell has observed on his travels and in the magazines, cogitated upon and thought too hard about so we don't have to since we last met. Titles? Oh, it's got titles - Evening Of Swing (Has Been Cancelled), Bad Losers On Yahoo Chess, Took Problem Chimp To Ideal Home Show, Totnes Bickering Fair, Give Us Bubblewrap - and it's got the latest in the recent series of imaginary other albums in the range in the sleeve, including Pam Ayres' 'Orses. You've got this on pre-order already or have made special plans for Monday, yes?

- And from one Peel band to, well, the Peel band. The second sentence of Renegade: The Lives And Tales Of Mark E Smith is a withering indictment of England's 2006 World Cup squad. It then spends the first few pages on a protracted rant against former guitarist Ben Pritchard. Similarly, Fall studio album 27 Imperial Wax Solvent begins with Alton Towers, a queasy Swordfishtrombones-esque lurching state of the nation address in which a magnificently phlegmatic sounding Smith sounds off about "the spawn of J Loaded Brown and L Laverne". Every Fall album these days is destined to be labelled The Best Fall Album Since (insert not too recent critically acclaimed album here - Extricate lately, will be The Real New Fall LP in a couple of years), but this one has a fresh garage as starting point determination and an all-out cockeyed madness that might actually make it such. And, as above, here's someone with a knack for titles that instantly draw out their world, such as Senior Twilight Stock Replacer, Wolf Kidult Man and Exploding Chimney.

- God, this is a good week. Everyone seems to have forgotten the second eponymous Portishead album, and with good reason, as it took the disquieting crypto-psychosis in trip-hop form of Dummy - how did that album end up in This Life-sponsored dinner party cliche hell? - and realised it had nothing it could really do with them. That original sound was always dark, but after several years off without an idea of how to progress - seven years alone passed between gigs - during which time genres came and went and digital technology advanced, eleven years later Third, a title which suggests Barrow, Utley and Gibbons have better things to do than think of titles too hard, showcases a sound far denser and mechanised than the airy origins. It's still cinematic in scope, but it's moved from Bond to HR Giger, while certainly not difficult or dour. It may have stylistic links to the likes of Burial at one end and Suicide at the other but ultimately it exists of and within itself. And who thought we could say that about an Island Records release in 2008.

- dEUS never made the breakthrough they occasionally touched upon, turning out to be too quixotic, too abrasive to make the art-rock crossover. 2005's Pocket Revolution promised much but leant too far in the direction of Tom Barman trying to take the much changed and recently returning outfit towards the mainstream. Vantage Point is his realisation that giving in to chart temptation isn't what dEUS are for and wasn't working anyway. Guy Garvey and Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife pop by but it's all about the motorik, anxiety ridden textures and Beefheart propulsiveness that marked the band out through their high spots In A Bar Under The Sea and The Ideal Crash. They could still only ever be themselves.

- As could the Tindersticks, although between the lounge orchestral strings and Stuart Staples' basso profundo croon - surely nobody in Britain can have been less enamoured when Vic Reeves unleashed his club singer voice on Shooting Stars - few bands touched their down at hee grandiosity. Thought split in 2004, Staples having released two solo albums since, they reformed as a studio three-piece of original members last year for seventh album The Hungry Saw, continuing on their soul-inflected path of recent vintage but largely retaining that effortless drift.

- Los Campesinos! were supposed to have a single out this week, but according to their latest podcast the pressing plant forgot about it so it's been pushed back a fortnight. So, default best single of the week: The Wave Pictures' low-key 7" Strange Fruit For David, which continues their New Hefner path with the celebrated statue/marmalade lyric which will be the talk of the twee nation before long. Second place goes to Kat Flint, who, would you credit it, is a female folk-influenced singer-songwriter who belies the current influx with the mere strength of her songwriting, as shown again on brass-inflected Christopher, You're A Soldier Now. (EDIT: oh, apparently Restlesslist's nightmare Mariachi cop show theme Butlin Breaks is back out on 7" too)

Oh yeah, Aleks and Ellen have done a new podcast.

COMING SOON: And also out this week is The Imagination Stage, the return of the ornately crafted 60s-referring baroque pop of Eric Matthews. Best known here, and probably everywhere else for all we know, for the Mark Radcliffe-adored Fanfare (video taken off YouTube! Fools!), he's now pitched somewhere between balladeering Scott Walker and Bacharach/David. Little 18 is more minimal than most but still finds time for a good old trumpet voluntary.

MYSPACE INVADERS: Another band getting a slow but steadily increasing amount of attention are Stonehaven's (it's near Aberdeen) Copy Haho. In common with nearly every band featured here, they sound like modish early 90s American bands. This is good. The echoes here are largely of Pavement and Sebadoh (who they played with two nights ago as part of the Triptych festival), with a melodic and very Scot-pop cocksureness that we've seen recently in the likes of Make Model and Dananananaykroyd, who they've supported recently, and Frightened Rabbit and Wake The President, who as far as we know they haven't. They're already full of twisted pop shapes and they're very much on the right track to big stuff.

VISUAL AID: One of the very many odd things that struck us while reading last week's where-on-earth-do-you-start? Pipettes breakup press release is that if anyone was going to go off solo it'd be the one they've left behind, Gwenno, on the basis of the side project work we've mentioned on here before and indeed her preceding Cymraeg career. Even that contained an enormous curveball - having been bred as a Welsh language dance diva (one review refers to her as "Wales' answer to Kylie") she also seems at home coming on like a mystical version of the Scottish Widows woman in Ysolt Y'nn Gweinten, part of the 2005 Celtic Legend project musically retelling Tristan and Isolde in the Cornish language, captured here from Classic FM's digital channel. That's eclecticism for you. That got us thinking about previous pop career trajectories and how much the people involved are willing to let on about them. The Ting Tings, for instance, have made a virtue of having been two thirds of Mercury signed "British Scissor Sisters" Dear Eskiimo as recently as 2005; whether Katie and Jules want the world to be reminded of their dressing as a ballerina and clown for the video for Patience is less clear now it's all barrow boy caps and wraparound shades. On the other hand, Morgan from Does It Offend You Yeah? and latterly Plugs doesn't tend to mention that at the start of the decade he was the guitarist in Dimestars, a hyped but hitless post-Republica type vehicle for Kim Wilde's sister Roxanne, while Ed Harcourt didn't let on for a while, possibly fearful of his status as the hard man of intelligent singing-songwriting, that he was formerly the bassist in late Britpop nonachievers Snug. Can you comfortably play bass at that angle?

* It's Official Half Man Half Biscuit Week on Sweeping The Nation, which means we'll be doing a proper Illustrated Guide later on. As a taster, The Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project.

* We don't just offer up our address to anyone who wants it for promos and 'stuff', we're glad to take on any literature so offered up. That's why we're happy to give a plug to Mystery Magazine, "some 16/17/18 year olds who like music and bands and stuff and occasionally write about it in a little zine". Their spring edition has just come out, which costs all of 70p - and you can pay via sellotaped down coinage or PayPal! - for which you get interviews with Jamie out of Broken Records, Robert from Life Without Buildings and Kelly in Johnny Foreigner plus reviews, thinkpieces and 'that'.

* Muxtape DIY spinoffs were inevitable, weren't they? Well, apparently not, the anti-search robot programming foregoing a search engine for the time being, and the best application we can find is fairly unreliable, a recommendation service based on your account.

* And this week's inexplicable last clip - a Nickelback-soundtracked fan video tribute to a Dutch film starring one Joe Flynn, who bears a striking resemblance (ie. is) the similarly forenamed nu-folkster.

HOUSEKEEPING: Get your year-specific muxtapes in!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Weekly Sweep

  • Cats In Paris – Foxes [Myspace]
  • dEUS - Slow [YouTube]
  • The Futureheads - Radio Heart [YouTube]
  • The Gresham Flyers - Berry Buck Mills And Stipe [YouTube]
  • Grizzly Bear - While You Wait For The Others [live YouTube]
  • Holy Fuck - Lovely Allen [YouTube]
  • Jeremy Warmsley - Temptation [live mp3/video from The Daily Growl] (He's putting this and The Boat Song out on vinyl double A side in June but only has clips of the studio versions on his Myspace, see)
  • Johnny Flynn - Tickle Me Pink [YouTube]
  • Johnny Foreigner - Eyes Wide Terrified [YouTube] (Note to Alexei: no, the T-shirt wasn't big enough. Feel free to retain our tenner as a mark of gratitude for the excellent gig, though.)
  • Kat Flint - Christopher, You're A Soldier Now
  • Los Campesinos! - My Year In Lists [YouTube]
  • Mystery Jets - Two Doors Down [YouTube]
  • Noah & The Whale - Shape Of My Heart [YouTube]
  • The Ruby Suns - Kenya Dig It [Myspace]
  • The School - All I Wanna Do [YouTube]
  • Sky Larkin - I Was A Teenage Hand Model [Myspace] (Yes, it's a Queens Of The Stone Age cover. It's on a vinyl EP of covers (also covered: Springsteen, Jake Thackray, Travis Morrison) called Swit-Swoo which they're selling at gigs and a handful via mail order, unless they've sold out by now)
  • Spiral Beach - Voodoo [Myspace]
  • Thomas white - The Runaround [Myspace]
  • The Wave Pictures - Strange Fruit For David
  • Young Knives - Turn Tail [YouTube]
  • Friday, April 25, 2008


    The Sweeping The Nation Muxtape Challenge

    The up to date list is now kept here

    So you're already aware of the beautiful simplicity of Muxtape, yes?

    Well, we have a challenge for you.

    We want every year of the last four decades, 1967-2007, represented by a full twelve track Muxtape of songs from that year, each compiled by a different person. Add your name to the list via the traditional communication methods - comment, email, Myspace message, brick through window - and if you're not sure which year to go for, we'll assign you one. We'll keep count right here. You may also like to guess which popular online music magazine's message board this is being carried out in conjunction with. (If you've asked for one that wasn't previously allocated in the comments and we've not said anything, just assume it's yours)

    1967 TAKEN
    1968 TAKEN
    1969 (Chris Brown)
    1970 TAKEN
    1971 (Jez)
    1972 (Raki)
    1977 (poptimusgrime off Drowned In Sound)
    1978 TAKEN
    1979 (Koen Fillet)
    1980 TAKEN
    1982 TAKEN
    1983 (Daniel Saunders)
    1984 (The Internet's Jamie Summers)
    1986 (Mike)
    1988 (Jim Waterson)
    1990 (Matthew Gaynor)
    1991 TAKEN
    1992 (Simon. Er, that's us. Hello.)
    1993 (-dan- off Drowned In Sound)
    1994 (JohnM off Drowned In Sound)
    1995 (David Pott-Negrine)
    1996 TAKEN
    1997 (James)
    1998 (Matt Sullivan)
    1999 (Tom Alvarez)
    2000 (Ben Hall)
    2001 (lemonbrickcombo off Drowned In Sound)
    2002 (Paulo)
    2003 TAKEN
    2004 (Adas)
    2005 (yes_ off Drowned In Sound)
    2006 (Tom Whyman)
    2007 (TheWildSon off Drowned In Sound)

    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Why the word 'indie' needs reclaiming part II

    The Independent is giving away an 'Indie Cool' CD with Saturday's paper.

    Some points.

    a) Every track is licenced from the not noticeably run from a two-room flat Sony BMG.

    b) It features the Senseless Things, Reef and Ned's Atomic Dustbin.

    c) And not obvious Ned's Atomic Dustbin, but their last single from 1995.

    d) Govinda, released 1996, "brought Kula Shaker to the forefront of the post-Britpop movement." Similarly, the first Klaxons single must have made them frontrunners in post-new rave.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    No U's

    For some reason the Arts Council, or at least its Take It Away musical learning initiative, is holding a Most Musical City in England poll. Each city has a celebrity sponsor - of course it does - and the winner gains a sense of meta-smugness, probably.

    So those ten nominees? Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield - all fair enough, if we're going down this route. Leicester? There's an image problem inherent here just in how speaking up for the city is Engelbert Humperdinck and the blurb also has to mention Showaddywaddy before running out of steam. Also, we're invited to believe Enge writes copy such as "Kasabian - with their swaggering style, hazy indie-rock sound and dazzling live performances". Believe us, we're from there. Er, here.

    The tenth place nominated? One of what we're invited to believe are the ten greatest popular musical heritages in the land?


    That's... Colchester.

    Dave Rowntree's our man, and that's pretty much its load blown at the outset. He throws in Twink of the Pink Fairies and Pretty Things and then Jay Kay, born in Trafford, Greater Manchester, briefly educated in both Colchester and Rutland, mostly based in Buckinghamshire. Our suggestion is, if you're reading this: go to the site, find out how the hell you put in a vote, put your name down for Colchester and let's completely upend its meaningfulness together.

    Monday, April 21, 2008

    Bluegrass Monday

    Hayman Watkins Trout & Lee - actually Hayman, Watkins, Mayfield and Tattersall - are a country bluegrass outfit from East London. No traditionalists, their lyrical approach is self-explained by the first and last of those members being Darren Hayman of Hefner and latterly solo bedsit narration and David Tattersall of upstarts The Wave Pictures. They have a self-titled album out next month on Fortuna Pop! and in advance are giving away a track that bears the expected resemblance to the titular outfit in style or content.

    Hayman Watkins Trout & Lee - Sly And The Family Stone

    As we mentioned at the time, we saw this secret clearing set at last year's End Of The Road Festival. Emmy The Great was there too. Showbiz.

    Sunday, April 20, 2008

    Weekender : wondering whether a band without any original front line members is really the same band at all

    WHAT CD?

    - Tell us, how magnificent a prospect did it seem when the news broke last year that Mark E Smith was planning an autobiography? The day is finally here, and needless to say Renegade: The Lives And Tales Of Mark E Smith - he seems to have reneged on the planned subtitle The Gospel According To Mark E Smith - is no work of autobiography as Churchill might have envisioned, being a story of his life told in a linear pattern only up to a certain floating point. The rest is a morass of prosthelytizing, ranting, laying down of ground rules, words from the (un)wise, Northern sage insight and all points north. It probably won't make next week's Imperial Wax Solvent album, or the other twenty six, any less impenetrable, but things would be a lot less fun if it did.

    - Since Grant McLennan's death two years ago Robert Forster has mostly been concentrating on his music writing, earning the Critic of the Year 2006 Pascall Prize and making it into the annual Da Capo Best Music Writing volume for last year. The Evangelist is his first solo record in twelve years, featuring three songs written by the pair - the other recent incarnation Go-Betweens plus a producer and arranger from their past are also involved - and while it's not up there with the best of the Go-Betweens' work its exquisite acoustic melancholy maintains Forster's reputation as a strong, sensitive writer. On the other hand, apparently Owen 'Final Fantasy' Pallett's got a side project.

    - Singles are an interesting and mixed bunch, again presented in alphabetical order. 4 Or 5 Magicians, who we recently introduced you to at greater length, are making a habit out of writing songs superficially about music and its attendant cultural industries which aren't really about that and wrapping them in glorious GBV/Pavement/Sebadoh-nodding lo-fi, such as the double A side Change The Record/Ideal Man. dEUS have kept the same lineup for two albums, which is an achievement in itself, and preview fifth album Vantage Point with the jagged menace of Slow, featuring backing vocals from The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson. Make Model have been clocking up support act miles of late and give this major label life a good shot with a reissue of their first single The LSB, which reconfigures Broken Social Scene's art gang aesthetic in similar if more electronic ways to how Los Campesinos! do. Finally Deptford cosmopolitans the Shortwave Set's sample patchwork psychedelics gain an unfair advantage from fan turned producer Danger Mouse on No Social.

    - iLiKETRAiNS also have a single out, the Salem Witch Trials lament We Go Hunting, but of more interest is the DVD Elegies To Lessons Learnt, a limited edition animated film of the current album from soup to nuts with a fluid storyline, all in stop-motion from the careful hands of their cornet player and projectionist Ashley Dean. A second trailer has emerged.

    COMING SOON: And also out this week is Machine Gun, the forensically unlikely first single from the uneasy listening of Portishead's third album, erm, Third. They kind of ran out of titling inspiration once Dummy was in the bag, didn't they? At their ATP Nightmare Before Christmas they debuted a good proportion of it: Machine Gun itself, Silence, Hunter, We Carry On and The Rip.

    MYSPACE INVADERS: Get in early, there's a head of steam building up around Manchester's The Vanguard at the moment having supported British Sea Power and got their producer Graham Sutton to record their demos. Duke Spirit fans should certainly be looking this way, but there's a seam of that peculiarly north-western trait of enormous effects pedal atmospheric guitar sounds and cocksure vocals, these respectively from V - just V - and Julie Reverb. Mr and Mrs Reverb, given of a daughter. While we wonder whether there's histories being hidden here, watch the labels come a-calling before too long.

    VISUAL AID: Turns out Steven Ansell from Blood Red Shoes was once a member of a Big Breakfast Family Of The Week, and while there's no sign of them online that's all the geeing we need to search the surprisingly thorough online BB archives from when Bob Geldof had just had the nod from Planet 24. They, you see, did things differently, if not always originally, as demonstrated when, donning a mohican wig in the comedic name of introducing a new game, now Jonathan Ross radio fixer Andy Davies introduces the Lurkers, although clearly nobody on screen, and probably off, knows what they're quite there for. If you want to confuse a guest, though, send them up to Zig & Zag: Tori Amos is sanguine and playful in their presence, the Beastie Boys promoting Sabotage attempt to keep their poker face cool long after events have suggested this probably wasn't required at the time. Manfully controlling the chat in both is Mark Little, who solo got to talk to a typically inscrutable Bjork amid disco lights. If your PR department are doing particularly well you get to perform in the house, Lush donning huge nametags, Miki in the green dress she sported for virtually all 1996. It was when Johnny and Denise came in that things took an odd pop cultural turn, whether having Deep Purple in the garden or Johnny becoming untypically excited on receiving a fax from Spizz.

    * We seemed to spend most of last year wading through a crop of bands and activity in Brighton, a place where there's clearly something in the air quite apart from that smell coming from Europe that you may have read about. How else to explain Manic Organic, an event held as part of the forthcoming Brighton Festival at the local Concert Hall, wherein the Dome's pipe organ is put to use by assorted leftfield types in various recitals, "a subversive new spin" as the blurb ungainly puts it. Chief among these is a set of "rave-era Happy Hardcore and publicly selected tracks from Brighton's recent musical output" by two concert organists, including a selection the public can make via that link from songs by British Sea Power, the Go! Team and Fujiya & Miyagi.

    * It's a question you see almost as much as "whatever happened to Tom Vek?" on message boards - "whatever happened to Dogs Die In Hot Cars?" Well, they split. Obviously they did. However, singer Craig Macintosh, who apparently lives in Spain now - and they say there's no money in mid-ranking music - has dug out an initial four home recorded second album demos and put the component parts online for you, the Web 2.0 community or whatever it's called now, to put together and add to as you see fit, return to Macintosh and make a definitive DDIHC album, the reward being not only satisfaction but a portion of all recording and publishing royalties.

    * We're not really sure what Oatmeal TV is, or why we're keenly linking to something that early on delves into 'look where we are and what we're doing!'-isms, but otherwise we think you might like to have a look at their three part coverage of South By South West.

    Saturday, April 19, 2008

    The Weekly Sweep

  • 4 Or 5 Magicians - Change The Record [Myspace]
  • Broken Records - If The News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It [Myspace]
  • dEUS - Slow [YouTube
  • The Dirty Backbeats - To The Dogs [Myspace]
  • Elbow - One Day Like This [YouTube]
  • Foals - Red Sox Pugie [live YouTube]
  • The Futureheads - Radio Heart [Myspace video]
  • Holy Fuck - Lovely Allen [YouTube]
  • Johnny Flynn - Tickle Me Pink [YouTube]
  • Johnny Foreigner - Eyes Wide Terrified [YouTube]
  • Kat Flint - Christopher, You're A Soldier Now
  • Lightspeed Champion - Galaxy Of The Lost [YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - My Year In Lists [YouTube]
  • Meneguar - Some Other Life [YouTube]
  • Mystery Jets - Two Doors Down [YouTube] (Yeah, that was pretty much the only style of video they could have gone for on this one, isn't it?)
  • Noah & The Whale - Shape Of My Heart [YouTube]
  • Post War Years - The Black Morning [Myspace]
  • The School - All I Wanna Do [YouTube]
  • Tindersticks - The Hungry Saw [Myspace]
  • Young Knives - Turn Tail [Myspace]
  • Monday, April 14, 2008

    I never cared about Johnny X

    George Washington Brown (AKA J Xaverre, also Pete Gofton) remixes Death To Los Campesinos!

    Somewhere in a field

    Noel Gallagher has been flapping his gums again about, among other things, why Jay-Z at Glastonbury is A Bad Thing. Now, in the great Not Selling Tickets War we take the view that of course it's not one headliner causing the shirking - hell, it sold out when Rod Stewart brought his Las Vegas act in 2002 - but all the same we'd much rather see Jay-Z as headliner than Kings Of Leon as headliner.

    That thinking led us down a seperate road regarding the profusion of festivals around at the moment. What we did was cut away the extraneous lot and and devise a list of the big hitting, name aware or big name affording festivals taking place every weekend from from Glastonbury to the end of August (there's only Bestival and End Of The Road worth bothering with after that):

    28-29/6 Glastonbury, Wakestock
    5- 6/7 Wireless, Hop On The Farm, Wakestock Wales, Zoo Thousand, Blissfields, Guilfest, Cornbury
    12-13/7 T In The Park, Two Thousand Trees, Lounge On The Farm
    19-20/7 Latitude, Camp Bestival, Lovebox, Truck
    26-27/7 Secret Garden Party, Global Gathering, WOMAD, Ben & Jerry's Sundae
    2- 3/8 Live at Loch Lomond, Cambridge Folk Festival, Kendal Calling, Big Chill
    9-10/8 Summer Sundae, Field Day, Underage, Belladrum, Cropredy, Rip Curl Boardmasters Unleashed
    16-17/8 V Festival, Green Man, Beautiful Days
    23-24/8 Reading & Leeds, Creamfields, Solfest, Get Loaded in the Park
    30-31/8 Connect, Jersey Live

    That's quite a few over ten weekends, isn't it? And that's before you factor in the popular European circuit - Benicassim and Summercase are both on the 19th-20th July weekend. Now, clearly not all of these are going for the same markets, but for example note the ungainly movement in Wireless moving back three weeks from last year, forcing T In The Park to the following weekend from last year, which forced Latitude back into the path of Rob da Bank's new spinoff startup, which itself is taking custom from the almost venerable Truck, not to mention a Lovebox that diversifies more year on year and this year includes the Flaming Lips, Goldfrapp, Jack Penate and the Young Knives. Indeed, despite it being commonly held that festivals had reached saturation point, trust Melvin Benn to come up with a new one, 6th July alone sees two new events and one, the Abersoch leg of Wakestock, moved forward by a fortnight, with Guilfest also a week earlier this year. Do they all agree this is permanently sustainable?

    Sunday, April 13, 2008

    Weekender : possesses the mild air of a retail tobacconist

    Incidentally, of the three bands we suggested/demanded you vote for in Gigwise's Camden Crawl competition, one got through. We know our place.

    WHAT CD?
    - It feels like dinosaurs were walking the earth when Blood Red Shoes started putting out regular singles, although in fact there's been eight in just over three and a half years. In any case Box Of Secrets has certainly been regarded as imminent at least since late summer 2007, largely held up by record company issues. And after all that it sounds, and probably was, recorded in a rush of studio time. Not that that's a bad thing in the duo's world at all, despite the odd vocal seemingly recorded by Laura-Mary Carter in a greenhouse. It's the same primeval rock and roll meltdown that makes their live show so compelling, as Carter makes as if she has blood turning to ice while carving out huge bludgeoning but accurate Rid Of Me-style riffola on one side of the stage while Steven Ansell whirlwinds away at his kit and vocal counterpoints on the other. Box Of Secrets is that rare record, a disc that manages to encapsulate the sawn off kinetic intertwining energy of the live show - there is only one other person on the whole album, and possibly just to make sure we give it the full whack review it's Harriet Campesinos - without much in the way of sonic compromise. A band that can manage that first time out is worthy of your ADD attention.

    - There aren't many people whose only apparent problem with Luke Haines' post-Now I'm A Cowboy albums is that they aren't misanthropic enough but we're glad some exist, and two front Brighton/London quintet The Indelicates, who set their stall out as early as titling their debut album American Demo. The best capsule inroad we can manage into its world of eye rolling is to say it sounds much like a polemical indie band led by a Carter USM-inspired performance poet and a cabaret and showtune-loving disenchanted ex-Pipette should. If the weight of the pop culture satirising and baiting, occasionally alarming societal point bludgeoning, commoditising even love against itself lyrical scope occasionally make you want to ask Simon and Julia 'can't you ever actually enjoy something?', there's definitely something tunnel vision focused about the way it wraps its withering fist in the velvet glove of punchy, detailed but still handclap friendly power pop and occasional punch drunk love quasi-ballad - not only are they big mates with Eddie Argos, and like his band are better received in Germany than in Britain, but produer Brian O'Shaughnessy has not only engineered Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine but worked with Denim/Go-Kart Mozart, St Etienne, Misty's Big Adventure and the much underrated Playwrights so can tell where they're coming from and respond accordingly. It starts knowing it's right and everyone else is wrong and retains full ire throughout, and if their "despicable folk-rock cabaret" doesn't carry through with their celebrated "mission to end all music", it's certainly put music under strict supervision and no solids.

    - Going back a bit, if getting Blood Red Shoes down on tape in a fashion that justifies them is like attempting to quantify the air, doing justice to the frenzy and noise ¡Forward Russia! produce on stage must be akin to operating that Large Hadron Collider that has a small chance of destroying the universe. Give Me A Wall had a good go and didn't quite manage it; Life Processes sees the band meet recording equipment halfway, attempting to find a narrow path between greater care and attention to crafting the noise and keeping it spontaneous and centrifugal. There's a greater ambition for wider spaces at work, stripping back and atmospherics making an appearance, but even if you can better decipher the words and act accordingly by trying to overlook most of them Tom Woodhead still sounds like a man being attacked by wasps during a hardcore gig. It's all over the place, and it's compact and overwrought simultaneously, and it takes them even further from the mainstream Whiskas' Dance To The Radio (although this is on Cooking Vinyl) label signings the Pigeon Detectives exemplify. Good.

    - The great thing about following new music with nose to grindstone, the thing that keeps us coming back to this blog day after day and Weekender week after week, is that we rarely get out of the house. No, that's not it. It's the excitement of finding new talent and following it through to a first contact/press mention/single, knowing that somewhere out there is a band already somewhere close to fully formed and offering something genuinely enthralling and with a singularity that marks them out from the morass. Such was the case when we came across Broken Records, the Edinburgh outfit drowning in Arcade Fire comparisons such are their stringed instruments, mandolins and huge soundscapes, but equally you'd find them at home nestled next to Beirut, the Waterboys, Calexico, Too-Rye-Ay Dexys, Okkervil River, Bright Eyes, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtracks... there's an intensity and a boldness to their arrangements that we just haven't seen in Britain no matter how long it's been since Win and Regine first appeared on the radar. The debut single, on XL imprint Young Turks, is called If The News Makes You Sad Don't Watch It, and it's not going to be the last we hear of them by the longest of chalks. Also out in single form this week: Cardiff Camera Obscurish The School's debut All I Wanna Do (same label, Elefant, as well), the long awaited returns of Portishead (Machine Gun) and Tindersticks (The Hungry Saw), laptop solo bloke White Williams takes the DFA glam electro dancing on debut New Violence and, oh go on then, The Last Shadow Puppets' The Age Of The Understatement, in which Famous Bloke Out Of Modern Band and Mate Of Said Bloke From Rubbish Band bring the melodrama of Scott Walker's Jackie to Alan Sillitoe's kitchen sink.

    - For those of us of a certain age, Simon Armitage was our first entry into modern poetry through being the most cherished of Mark Radcliffe's Graveyard Shift poet. Wikipedia fills in the backstory to the effect that "He has received numerous awards for his poetry, including The Sunday Times Author of the Year, a Forward Prize, a Lannan Award, and an Ivor Novello Award for his song lyrics in the Channel 4 film Feltham Sings. He was one of the judges for the 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2006 was one of the judges for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction". Indeed, he was tipped for the Poet Laureate position last time that came up, and might well be again when Andrew Motion gives it up next year. Also, at the time of writing Elbow top his weekly stats but lag well behind the Fall, XTC and the Wedding Present in his overall list, not to mention his own band The Scaremongers. Clearly, this is a renaissance man we'd like to know, even if our compatibility is only Medium. Gig: The Life And Times Of A Rock-Star Fantasist is a typically self-effacing self-examination of his connection with music over the years and how it compares and impinges upon his life as a travelling and lecturing versifier, in terms of place, persona and ambition. The Scaremongers have just announced a London gig next month (8th May, The Gramophone in Spitalfields). If it goes half as successfully as his writing the town will be his.

    - Armitage says in the text that the band he longed his younger self to form would be like the Wedding Present, which we can fully identify with, and indeed David Gedge is sought for a contribution. They're proof that once set in place an image can never really be shifted - when most think of the Weddoes they think of a yowling bluff Yorkshireman among jangly bluff Yorkshiremen, but here are a band who were subject to Steve Albini's microphone placings immediately before it became fashionable to do so, and will be again on May's eighth album El Rey, and who John Peel, who had them in eleven times, claimed had written some of the greatest love songs of the rock and roll era. DVD An Evening With The Wedding Present is a live recording from November 2005 featuring 21 songs including several of what passes for hits (Brassneck, Kennedy, Corduroy, Nobody's Twisting Your Arm, Come Play With Me)

    COMING SOON: "(Nigel) Blackwell's personal mythology covers a wide range of topics which are often juxtaposed in counter-intuitive ways. A full understanding of HMHB lyrics is perhaps predicated on being born on Merseyside in the 1950s or 1960s, being unemployed (or at least not working, to permit exposure to daytime television) in the mid-1980s to early 1990s, and being an obsessive hoarder of books, records, football trivia, and memories of obscure television programmes. Occasionally Nigel turns his attention to the absurdities of everyday life." A Half Man Half Biscuit CD on the Probe Plus label? That's sure to be good. Yeah, break out the bunting and set the dogs on the unbelievers, CSI: Ambleside is their eleventh full-length, out on 28th April, and features the requisite number of excellent song titles (Evening Of Swing (Has Been Cancelled), Took Problem Chimp To Ideal Home Show, King Of Hi-Vis) So far debuted live, and the clever thing here is mobile phone audio quality means you'll have to buy the album to hear the lyrics properly, have been Bad Losers On Yahoo Chess, Blue Badge Abuser and Totnes Bickering Fair. Can we just express our enjoyment of the order in which the big names to have played the venue this local news story is about have been listed?

    MYSPACE INVADERS: We're not entirely sure why we've taken a turn for the twee and lo-fi here of late, but as a palette cleanser after all the agitated odds-shouters we come across in release schedules week after week it works well. Also, we feel a lack of commercial ambition is to be lauded to the highest hills in these Cage The Elephant times. This week it's Leeds' The Seven Inches. Too tight to be shambolic, too acerbic to be cast aside, we suspect from the details they're as acquainted with Ballboy as the works of Amelia Fletcher. And a manifesto! One which proclaims their truths as "socialist folk music, soul power, classical sturm und drang, rock and roll realism, pop love, gospel truth, experimental ideology, and punk creativity... To believe in content over competence, style over content, and honesty over style." Yeah, sounds about right.

    VISUAL AID: Edwyn Collins this week, who has recently announced an unlikely but hugely welcome return to touring. So quick quiz - what was the follow-up to A Girl Like You? It was the Northern Soul-referencing, just as good as the hit Keep On Burning - note none more 1995 Charlie Chuck cameo. That break was the sort of thing that enabled him to take his wry songs to a worldwide audience, Europewide at once in the case of The Campaign For Real Rock on MTV's Most Wanted (ah, a whole generation passes by who know nothing of Ray Cokes), or just on Channel 4's much lamented The White Room. You'll see he does Rip It Up in that clip, and Orange Juice are a slightly different matter, a one hit wonder but with a much more lauded back catalogue that Collins dips into very occasionally, such as What Presence. Any man that can sound equally at home covering the Velvets' Pale Blue Eyes and Eurovision winner Ding A Dong deserves only the highest praise.

    * The Quietus officially launches in June but for the time being is running an all-star blog on music and its attendant culture. Pitching itself between the gradually decreasing target NME market and the highfalutin retro industry of your Mojos and Uncuts, kind of a Word-type thing without the occasional bouts of head-slapping, it's edited by John Doran who did 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, does the BigSexyLand club night and has written for Plan B, Playlouder, Metal Hammer, Record Collector, Wire, Classic Rock, Loaded, Marie Claire and others. There's also some sort of Drowned In Sound connection, and it features a range of writers signed up to do, oh, something which borders on ridiculous, including Simon Reynolds, Simon Frith, Aidan John Moffat, Simon Price, Steve Lamacq, Peter Robinson, Steven 'oh, could it be a piece about how all you internet people's indie music is shit and not like pop?' Wells, David Stubbs, Alex Macpherson, Leonie Cooper, Stevie Chick, Tommy Udo, Miss AMP, David McNamee, Andrew Mueller, kicking_k (someone we unaccountably thought was female until comparatively recently), Taylor Parkes, Neil Kulkarni, Louis Pattison... We'd recommend for starters the podcast with photographer Steve Gullick and the track-by-track on the new Fall album.

    * As for bands blogging, Tokyo Police Club have taken the road less travelled, if less travelled for a good reason, keyboardist Graham Wright rating the bathrooms visited during their North American tour. From piss pot to fight pop, Dananananaykroyd have swapped their Tumblr blog for an easier to decipher Blogspot blog, its contents described as "pictures of ourselves monging off in England and nu-metal videos". An interview with the band will be on STN as soon as we ask the band if they want to do an interview.

    * Blood Red Shoes are hot property at the moment, as previously discussed, and to tie in their first label Jonsun Family have put two copies of their long since sold out 2004 debut 7" Victory For The Magpie on eBay, all proceeds to go to the duo's charities of choice, St Catherine's Hospice and Help The Aged.

    * New thrills! Defunct Largely Forgotten But Great In Their Own Special Way Bands Of The Past With Myspace Accounts! (Snappy.) To start, it's Princes Risborough's bemulleted cryptic calling Moog playing drone guitar Fall/Stereolab acolytes Tiger. Three brilliant 1996-98 singles right at the top of the player there.

    * Wet Riffs. We don't know. We just don't know. (NSFW)

    Saturday, April 12, 2008

    The Weekly Sweep

  • The Accidental - Wolves [Myspace]
  • Blood Red Shoes - Take The Weight [live Myspace]
  • Broken Records - If The News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It [Myspace]
  • The Dirty Backbeats - To The Dogs [Myspace]
  • Future Of The Left - Manchasm [YouTube]
  • Holy Fuck - Lovely Allen [YouTube]
  • The Hot Puppies - Somewhere [Myspace]
  • The Indelicates - New Art For The People [live YouTube]
  • Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Who Built The Road
  • Isosceles - Watertight [Myspace] (Half of a double A side, the other half of which is rubbish. This might well be their only ever appearance here, but who can really say)
  • Johnny Flynn - Tickle Me Pink [YouTube] (The old, old story, of course, but not as good as the original)
  • Johnny Foreigner - Eyes Wide Terrified [YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - My Year In Lists [YouTube]
  • Meneguar - Some Other Life [YouTube] (So obviously the trail from Johnny Foreigner and Dananananaykroyd was always going to lead us to the New Yorkers both cite as a major influence)
  • Noah & The Whale - Shape Of My Heart [YouTube]
  • The Scaremongers - Less Is More [YouTube] (Simon Armitage has the flattest Northern vocals ever recorded. On the other hand, he's Simon Armitage. His music related book is out this week, but we'll come back to that tomorrow.)
  • The School - All I Wanna Do [YouTube]
  • Speedmarket Avenue - Way Better Now [Myspace] (If we didn't have documentary proof you'd think Ed Harcourt had made them up - Stockholm based, organ, Jari Haapalainen produced, on Elefant Records)
  • This Town Needs Guns - 26 Is Dancier Than 4 [YouTube]
  • Young Knives - Turn Tail [Myspace]
  • Friday, April 11, 2008

    The only good thing about RickRolling

    is how much it must be annoying Pete Waterman.

    So RickRolling, which was no good to begin with, has permeated the mainstream in the last two or three weeks about four months after most people threw up their hands and announced "alright, we've got the idea". Indeed RickRolling's popular culture high point has already happened if you ask us, in the website that turned up with a countdown towards the end of last September and created a small media stir for as long as nobody did a whois on it, with the requisite embed when the clock struck zero. The effect was slightly spoilt, mind, when Johnny Greenwood posted to Dead Air Space about how there really was a Radiohead seventh album ready and look, there it is, within twelve hours of its denouement.

    In a vague attempt to get it, amateur psychosociological time has been given over in several environments to trying to work out why Astley and why Never Gonna Give You Up. After all, as a spinoff of something called DuckRolling, if we're looking for a half rhyme it might as well have been MickRolling, pointing and sniggering at Mick Jagger's solo career, and if the YouTube link was to his Top Of The Pops performance of Let's Work where he used all four studio stages in a blur of perpetual motion we'd have been merrily MickRolling for years.

    But no, essentially it's Rick Astley's fiefdom because of who he was. He was successful for a short period, left not much in the way of a back catalogue despite brief media-heralded comebacks about once every two years and is no more Eighties - that dress sense, that backing track, that plastic soul. Which brings us back to the first statement. When Dusty Springfield died Waterman was invited onto Channel 4 News in his dual role as record producer and soul man, and after giving fulsome praise to her way of breathing life into a lyric surmised "very few people in pop music history have had that ability. Rick Astley was one." Across the land we visualised people just staring at their televisions as the full scope of Pete Waterman having just compared Rick Astley's voice to Dusty Springfield's settled in.

    Even beyond association, he had image issues. He was from Newton-le-Willows, he was discovered at a haidresser's Christmas party and last time he was seen on the publicity trail he was sporting that wet look haircut Jamie Theakston used to have several years after even Theakston had given it up. The only thing that can come out of this is a heavy download promotional repush by whichever label currently holds his rights, and nobody deserves that.

    Thursday, April 10, 2008

    The Indelicates have built a snowman

    The Indelicates and a snowman, there.

    The above has been stolen wilfully from their forum and presented in apologia for how we were going to source a Nation Favourites interview with them but we're now not going to have time before the album is released. Have a song that's not on American Demo instead.

    The Indelicates - Vladimir

    Alternative times

    We were lurking on a general interest forum the other day when we saw someone openly announce "how great indiepop is at the moment". He continued. "The Hoosiers and Scouting For Girls records are great".

    Once we'd vowed never to speak to this person, and indeed stove their face in with a handy lump hammer should we ever meet, we got thinking about that little word. 'Indie'. Is there any more hated and abused term in the musical lexicon? Certainly these days, where all sorts of appellations are being coined and reassigned to artists who to all intents and purposes are Actually Indie, but we can't say so because that would suggest they were One Of Them. Hence we end up in this odd position where 'indie' is now only applied to bands who aren't indie at all, but carefully targeted and focus grouped major label signings. One Night Only are pushed as exciting youngsters. Alexa Chung's gurning, boss eyed uselessness is all OK because she's 'an indie style icon' as she might know who Lightspeed Champion is, when she's actually as alternative as Jordan. Traditional youth tribes and groupings have broken down so much that in the frenzy you get people attempt to identify themselves as "an indie" without the first clue of what that means. Even if, as has been overventilatedly suggested of late, Amy there is taking the piss, you're not seriously telling us that there's a horde of people falling for her after coming across this on the basis of what she's written. No, no, we do understand. We were there when jeans were normal sized. That's why we write this.

    So this is where we are. Bands that sound unashamedly like ELO are 'indie' because people think that it marks them out as non-mainstream when they're actually as mainstream as Westlife, while guitar bands who would have been Britpoppers just over a decade ago try to convince people that they were pop acts all along. It's tempting to blame Toploader, the pre-Rowley soft rock revivalists who teenage magazines occasionally called 'indie' because they had guitars and hair and Jamie Oliver fandom and came along in that post-Be Here Now pre-Coldplay infertile period when anyone with a guitar was described as "like Travis and the Stereophonics", but those were shouted down as we recall. Now the Hoosiers, who emerged fully formed with prime-time advertising and a huge marketing backing, get called an indie band. Indie? You're increasingly welcome to them.

    Monday, April 07, 2008

    Don't section editors ever talk to journalists?

    Page 6, yesterday's Observer Review: Erol Alkan featured prominently in an article about how "a whole new generation of producers is reshaping music."

    Page 20, yesterday's Observer Review: "Could there be a reason why Erol Alkan hasn't produced many other records?"

    Stay in the back

    This is the age of the producer. We forget who coined that phrase, so let's say Sasha Frere-Jones, because it might annoy him. But there's a spark of truth here, when the front of house talent in R&B and the dying embers of hip hop start boasting about getting a beat off various people with alleged underground credentials and papers run involved news pieces about 360 degree deals and so forth.

    Behind this Wizard Of Oz curtain-like arena stepped Pete Paphides in Friday's Times. Taking as his jump-off the notion that there might be some sort of craft awards version of the Brits seemingly just to completely wreck the notion of artist development and free thought, he made a list of "the Top 20 most powerful and in-demand behind-the-scenes players working today". And we agree with it entirely.

    No, of course we don't.

    1. Lucian Grainge, Universal chairman
    See, if you're doing a proper Power List then Guy Hands is surely more notable for the way he's taking the entire industry model apart root and branch, replacing it with Plasticene. "A famously tough negotiator" is seen as his strength. So is Suge Knight, and his methods brought down an entire coast.

    2 Simon Cowell
    Has made the whole of UK entertainment jump off a cliff when he clicks his fingers. Ironic, really, that in an industry that prides itself on risk taking the Syco effect has been to remove most of that risk, like encasing Formula 1 cars in polystyrene.

    3 Jim Chancellor, Fiction MD
    And more Universal. In these post-Chasing Cars days it's easy to forget how much of a flyer Fiction must have taken on signing a band seen as increasing makeweights even on Jeepster. It's just that that's still a masterstroke this piece suggests he lives off, having more recently put eggs in baskets of Athlete - they did release another album, didn't they? - and Kate Nash, who may have done her best with Caroline's A Victim not to resemble a sure thing but the people weren't fooled.

    4 Paul Latham, Live Nation UK president
    LiveNation is the Windscale/Sellafield-style rebranding of Clear Channel's gobbling up of the live scene interests. In ensuring modern musicians will get even less money, it seems to be working.

    5 George Ergatoudis, Radio 1 playlist clerk
    Refused to playlist New Young Pony Club because he thought they were too similar to CSS. Sees his key success as The View. Times leaders have been written on less.

    6 Jacknife Lee
    Used to be in Compulsion; now makes us all suffer.

    7 Orla Lee, Polydor head of marketing
    Apparently her key to launching the Scissor Sisters in Britain was to "play down who they were". How do you manage that, exactly?

    8 Alison Howe, Later With Jools Holland producer
    Booked the Only Ones for a live prime time slot, exposing Peter Perrett's skeletal Ramone look to a nation more scared than by anything on Dr Who. World music is hardly on the up, is it?

    9 James Ford
    "What would Arctic Monkeys have done if it wasn’t for James Ford?" Paphides rhetorically asks. It has to be rhetorical, or else everyone would ask what was so wrong with having the fastest selling debut album ever before he got involved. Also says here he "steered Klaxons from obscurity", because of course nu-rave got no press at all before they won the Mercury.

    10 Zane Lowe
    Freely admits his producer picks virtually all the playlist. Essentially, his contribution to British music is adding echo effects to the end of new records.

    11 Cenzo Townsend, audio engineer at Olympic Studios

    12 Scott Rodger, manager
    Bjork's manager and Arcade Fire campaign orchestrator. And you thought they were doing it just for us. He's just taken up the Black Kids account, so let's see how he deals with a band whose hype is already receding.

    13 Geoff Travis and Jeannette Lee, Rough Trade and management
    "Key success: Duffy". Oh god, it's come to this.

    14 Melvin Benn, Festival Republic
    Which must make independent boutique events the breakaway Tibetan states of Festival. He's credited with Reading and Leeds, but they were going strong well before Benn got involved, and he arguably has more influence over Glastonbury now, even though you wouldn't put him in ahead of one or more Eavises on that front.

    15 Darcus Beese, Island A&R manager
    Did Universal bankroll this?

    16. Peter Robinson, Popjustice and plenty of other outlets
    "Popjustice’s support is vital to the launch of any mainstream artist" it says here, which explains why the number one position has been a complete carve-up between Annie, Lorraine and BWO of late.

    17 Roger Faxon, EMI Publishing director
    Publishing rights! That's where we reckon all the money is now, anyway. Impressively, it achieves the list win treble of bringing together Arctic Monkeys, Winehouse and Duffy.

    18 Carl Fysh and William Rice, Purple PR
    Yes, Carl Fysh out of Brother Beyond. Apparently they specialise in slow-burn launches that "avoid lurching into overkill". As clients include Adele and Mika, presumably this is a new level of irony.

    19 Luke Day, stylist
    Music in 2008, there.

    20 Laurence Bell, Domino Recordings
    Still puts out five quid label samplers and resolutely hasn't gone the way of Alan McGee. Alright, maybe doing sarcastic critiques of all twenty was doomed to failure, but The Man Who Signed Franz Ferdinand And Arctic Monkeys (To Flying Saucer Attack's Label) being at 20 smacks of someone only remembering him at the very end.

    So yeah, nobody really knows anything about how music works, least of all the people attempting to make it operational and seaworthy. Which is why we beg to differ, and can now bring you, the already confused and probably scrolling down looking for free mp3s reader, the fifteen actual most powerful people currently in and around UK music:

    1 The marketing manager of Cadbury's Dairy Milk
    2 The headmaster of the Brits School
    3 Lesley Douglas, who claims to have the psychological insight on the musical habits of the nation but actually has little more than the number of the Joel Noel agency.
    4 Jo Whiley's producer. How foresightful of them to only allow Pet Sounds by major label priority acts.
    5 The person who owns the patent on mobile phone text messaging
    6 The bloke with bags of stuff skulking on the corner of Camden High Street every night at eleven
    7 Whoever replaces Michael Parkinson, thoughts on crossover jazz pending
    9 Sean Rowley. In twenty years' time someone will claim Katie Melua as a Guilty Pleasure, at which point murder will have to be legalised.
    9 Alexa Chung, who may not be able to read an autocue without going cross-eyed but is hep with the kids thanks to her sartorial awareness and love of a band T-shirt (Sonic Youth, Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Motorhead, whoever else's merchandise has been appropriated by Top Shop) (NB. this position held open for Agyness Deyn, to be taken up the minute anyone outside fashion editorial conferences starts caring about her)
    10 Fred Les, or whatever he's calling himself this week. Knows Peaches Geldof, Alexa Chung and Lightspeed Champion, a current cultural full house.
    11 Kate Nash, for helping coin the famous phrase 'but (female solo singer) is no Kate Nash wannabe...'
    13 Ryan Tedder, pop songwriter and OneRepublic singer, who proves Maroon 5 may come and Orson may go but there'll always be cloying AOR.
    14 A tailor on Brick Lane
    15 Conor McNicholas. No, wait, that's just silly.

    Sunday, April 06, 2008

    Weekender : has a lot of apologising to do

    WHAT CD?
    - We didn't fall as much as many of our contemporaries did for the first Long Blondes album, Someone To Drive You Home. While their refusal to get rushed into a deal or the writer's room, producing the album nearly four and a half years after their first single, was commendable in the modern day there didn't seem to be a lot about it to make it seem that further advanced from many of their contemporaries - indeed, many of their better songs were left off. They were often referred to as the spritual heirs of Pulp's northern sexual bluffness, not without reason but only for Jarvis Cocker to admit he didn't rate them. Maybe some of it came down to the ballsy approach of Kate Jackson, vocally a warmer northern Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney but conversationally... well, whereas another guitar pop forebear Louise Wener endlessly talked in interviews about feminism and societal imbalance and got pilloried from many quarters for it, Jackson preferred to discuss her love of vintage clothing and it got her national gangs of lookalikes and acres of positive press at odds with their actual sales (that album peaked at number 44). You could write a thesis on what that reflects. Partly we suspect this was because she's not the band's main lyricist, Dorian Cox a fine character writer but resolutely That Bloke On The Side - as on the first album, here he delivers all but two lyric sheets. So what's changed for "Couples"? (The quotation marks are apparently deliberate) Well, apart from being made ahead of schedule in a tighter timeframe for once after a US tour fell through their star has retreated slightly, the female-friendly aura of the time swept away in the post-Nash backlash. Going back to a situation where nobody's putting the pressure on seems to really suit them as much as having Erol Alkan still feeling his way production wise at the controls. Not that they weren't a band aware of electronic and disco possibilities before, but while the Moroder-tastic Century is a slight red herring as to the overall sound they seem more comfortable challenging themselves to find a way through and out of the indiepop morass. This is what Blondie, once an average punk-pop band, did, and as well as the odd more direct reflection of their work scattered liberally throughout, like Debbie Harry Jackson's own voice has found a better range through confidence and time too, although we're at a loss to understand why people have suddenly started specifically critiquing it in a way they never have with most female singers. Evolution not revolution, then, but one that works best as a straight-up album (albeit one that the references to Erin O'Connor and Lily Cole instantly date) and where the darker, less rockist user-friendly songs that sound least like what came before are the most successful. They destroyed the hopes and dreams of a generation of faux-romantics, and we're pleased.

    - Evolution or revolution? It's the thing that splits bands apart more than any affair, drug or mental breakdown, and it's not like it stops with second album syndrome overcome. The Breeders, for example, release their second album in fifteen years, Mountain Battles, with a minimal Albini-helmed approach, and it sounds like a compilation of demo out-takes waiting to be finished properly. On the other hand Clinic release their album for the fifth time, this time under the title Do It! There's psychedelic quasi-ballads, fuzzbox stomps in odd time signatures, fuzzy garage punk miniatures, root canal shaking organ, dub melodica, unusual instruments, songs that sound like the Wicker Man soundtrack, often as covered by the Sonics, and Ade Blackburn delivering cryptic vocals as if through a sock. No, no sonic progression at all isn't generally to be given the thumbs up, but does it matter when it sounds like nobody else?

    - Colin Meloy Sings Live! is not, safe to say, the place to start if looking for a way into the Decemberists. These songs were recorded on a solo tour two years ago and lean mostly on the earlier material, with nothing from the then pending The Crane Wife (although we have a recording of a date from the tour featuring a superior version of The Shankill Butchers) but two hitherto unreleased songs as well as a Shirley Collins cover, snatches of Smiths and Fleetwood Mac, a song from his previous band Tarkio and bits of banter including a snatch of what he says is the worst song he's ever written. He's not far wrong.

    - Moshi Moshi Singles Club Volume 1 contains Kate Nash's Caroline's A Victim. Well, nothing's perfect. Over the last ten years the label has grown from bedroom 7" beginnings to becoming a place to stop over to guarantee a high level of output. This collection of two years of its Club also brings together the Wave Pictures, Dananananaykroyd, Slow Club, Elle S'appelle, Lykke Li, Late Of The Pier, Team Waterpolo, Friendly Fires and Matt & Kim to name most.

    - Originally supposed to be out in December, Future Of The Left finally get round to issuing Manchasm on 7". We can do no better than quote out Ian McDonald-like breakdown from our albums of '08 review: "wait... is that a synth pattern? Yes it is, it just sounds like Falkous is playing it in much the same way as he plays guitar, directness over pretty spiralling patterns. It also helps that the song is brilliant, hooking its first verse on the repeated assertion that "Mark Foley was right" (a namecheck for the Cardiff studio owner rather than the disgraced Congressman, although you wouldn't put the latter past them) with a chorus consisting of a repeated "audience please, every minute matters", a middle eight of "all he ever wanted was a detonator (and not 'perineum' as we thought for quite a while, which would have been excellent) before ending on a vocal roundel of "Colin is a pussy, a very pretty pussy(cat)"." Yeah, pretty much one of the singles of the year, right there.

    - In fact, there's loads of high quality new singles out this week. In no particular order we'll also be looking towards the battle march for rhythmic modernisn of Holy Fuck's Lovely Allen, the Cureish rambunctuousness in ones so young of Black Kids' I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You (you wouldn't put a bet on them holding up throughout a proper album, though, would you? Even without bloodsucking Bernard Butler's involvement), the crashing of thousand yard stare blues punk into a wall that is the Dirty Backbeats' To The Dogs and the two-person batallion Blood Red Shoes' Say Something Say Anything, of whom more, at last, next week.

    COMING SOON: Also out this week is ¡Forward, Russia!'s Breaking Standing, the first shot of a new era of proper song titles and musical expansiveness that doesn't try to catch their live lightning in a bottle but adapts to the cause instead. Second album Life Processes follows next week, and the final track Spanish Triangles is previewed on RCRDLBL in its prog-hardcore eight minute fullness. That live energy is reflected in a certain way on We Are Grey Matter and Gravity And Heat.

    MYSPACE INVADERS: We first came across Leamington Spa's Post War Years back at Summer Sundae 2005, where we reckoned they had room to build on their then state as a more harmonic Departure. They pretty much have since, as while there's still a post-DFA starting point they've augmented to it an undertow of attractively knackered organ sounds and a GoodBooks-esque way with reassembling melody, taking sudden twists and turns and as aware of this Hot Chip world as the standard indie disco beats.

    VISUAL AID: Mark E Smith's autobiography of sorts Renegade is just three weeks away. We hope Waterstones are planning a midnight opening. We've covered the lives and unloves of Mark Edward at length in visual form before, but never his Top Of The Pops appearance with Inspiral Carpets (ever seen the video?). Note the common pissed Smith trick of reading the lyrics off a sheet of A4 and still getting them wrong, the sort of behaviour that can really leave a man on the wrong side of Andi Peters ("you can tell he's from Manchester as he likes all the indie bands") Emma Forbes looks almost as bemused as Smith does when collared in a boisterous atmosphere by a 1989 German TV interviewer, bringing together many of his least favourite things in one bundle. He does much the same to Brits, of course, Caitlin Moran on Naked City in 1994 receiving trenchant views on Bernard Manning's suitability and the bon mot "I've fucked more women than you've ever seen". Then there's his typically graceful approach to winning the 1998 NME Brat Award for Godlike Genius, interrupting Eddie Izzard's introduction mid-flow and then forcing post-ceremony interviewer Jo Whiley down several blind alleys.

    So it turns out probably our most popular post ever was the one where we copied and pasted a load of stats. Honestly, after all the fact-finding effort we put in. well, it seems facts with little elucidation is what's needed to extend STN's reach, so here's some quickly tossed off random links.
    * iLiKETRAiNS have a touring van for hire, and guess what they've called their service
    * Photo booths in pop - a pictorial history
    * American comic legend Archie tells a suspiciously familiar tale of a Greek art school girl who wants to sleep with common people.
    * And to bring part of this week's cavalcade full circle, "Messing up the Paintwork: A conference on the Aesthetics and Politics of Mark E. Smith and the Fall"

    Saturday, April 05, 2008

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Blood Red Shoes - Say Something Say Anything [YouTube]
  • Broken Records - If The News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It [Myspace]
  • dEUS - Slow [YouTube]
  • Foals - Red Sox Pugie [live YouTube]
  • Future Of The Left - Manchasm [YouTube]
  • Holy Fuck - Lovely Allen [YouTube]
  • Johnny Foreigner - Eyes Wide Terrified [Myspace]
  • Jonquil - The Weight Of Lying On Your Back [Myspace]
  • Lightspeed Champion - Galaxy Of The Lost [YouTube]
  • The Long Blondes - Nostalgia [home made YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - My Year In Lists [YouTube]
  • MJ Hibbett & The Validators - Do The Indie Kid [Myspace]
  • Noah & The Whale - Shape Of My Heart [YouTube]
  • Port O'Brien - I Woke Up Today [Myspace]
  • The Rosie Taylor Project - A Good CafĂ© On George Street [Myspace]
  • The School - All I Wanna Do [YouTube]
  • The Shortwave Set - No Social [Myspace]
  • Superman Revenge Squad - Idiot Food [Myspace] (The label this is out on describe this very blog as "highly popular" in SRS' Myspace comments. Funny the impression we give off, although a glance at the comments boxes' popularity would instantly put that straight)
  • Tindersticks - The Hungry Saw [Myspace]
  • Young Knives - Turn Tail [Myspace]
  • Thursday, April 03, 2008

    Specials version

    There was going to be an induction of the Specials into the Illustrated Guide pantheon here to tie in with this week's latest Best Of and the reformation reports but, to show how professional an outfit Sweeping The Nation is, we couldn't find our research materials. Ah well. All you need to know is both albums with the full classic line-up are well worth your money, and that not all of those songs are originals. Six of the fourteen tracks on the debut are ska and bluebeat covers, and another three are interpolations. Here's some of those originals now.

    Toots And The Maytals - Monkey Man
    Prince Buster - Too Hot
    Lloyd Tyrrell - Birth Control (the basis of Too Much Too Young)

    Previously on STN: discussion of The Boiler. We haven't reuploaded its mp3, but we will if anyone really wants.

    Tuesday, April 01, 2008

    April Foals!

    Sorry. We'll do a Covermount or something next year.