Sunday, April 06, 2008

Weekender : has a lot of apologising to do

- 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"


Dead Kenny said...

Blondie were never ever 'average', Simon!

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