Friday, October 31, 2008

No fun, they say at the DMCA

So the thing that's not unreasonably been sweeping the music blogs this week is the Google/DMCA cartel in which mp3 posts are being deleted often without notification, and don't think this is due to copyright crackdowns of the type we've often seen before - The Daily Growl pretty much has most of the direct links on the UK side you'll need and the story of how two long lost and mp3 deleted posts both featuring a then unsigned Johnny Flynn have gone. Others have lost tracks which labels or PRs have given them express permission to post, often with the UK label or press office left apparently clueless as to why. It's all because of how the RIAA and IFPI work against each other, by the look of it.

We have a spin on this ourselves, namely that we received a DMCA notice last week, except the post in question wasn't removed. This one, in fact, on which you'll notice the only mp3s offered are direct links to Slow Down Tallahassee songs held by the resolutely independent Thee SPC. Maybe they were taking pot shots. According to our quick audit last night nothing of ours has actually gone and we have backups anyway, but do let us know if something has been vanished (NB. you won't let us know at all, we know you readers too well)

This isn't an argument we want to overshadow everything else that STN does, not being a primarily mp3 blog, and when we are it tends more towards unsigned acts, although we're re-evaluating our traditional giveaways of tracks from the top 30 albums of the year just in case. But what's behind it? Well, guess, but they could have said something after years of softly-softly approaches (indeed, we have a quote somewhere from an official source saying they essentially had bigger fish to fry) There's certainly been no announcement of blog crackdowns we've heard or of explicit Blogger/RIAA linkups, and it's not difficult to unwrap the levels this is reaching (17 Seconds, who made everyone aware of what was initially going on when they lost a James Allan interview featuring two long deleted demos from when the band were giving them away through their own site, have had a wall of silence from the previously accomodating Glasvegas management) Well.... we dunno any more.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pray this technology never falls into the wrong hands

Sky Larkin at the British Museum from Sky Larkin on Vimeo.

They've got their own website now, and apparently there's album samplers floating about. My, 2009 is looking good for the artist we've tipped, isn't it? Tipped in 2006, admittedly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Is this real or our new favourite dream?

Unacceptable in the 80s

We were glad to read Pitchfork's chat with Gwenno Pipette on Thursday, specifically the bit where she revealed of their new material "There's a lot more 80s influence... you can actually dance to our songs now properly... there are Eurobeat elements and disco elements in there that weren't in there originally. It's exciting for all of us in the band, because it's a musical era that we're quite interested in." Glad to read it because, while these seem to be very early days in this progression blueprint - although of the new songs we've seen on YouTube we're not holding out excessive amounts of hope - it looks like there'll one less on the list when we come to compile the albums we're looking forward to in 2009.

Bluntly, the 1980s revival has run out of inspiration and needs to stop.

Now, this will be controversial for many reasons. For one, our countdown of the year's best albums is coming up and we know people will delight in pointing out the disparity between this statement and the records we do admire publicly, and also we have a large number of friends and readers (not the same thing, we're too wise for that) who like a lot of these people, but it's a view that's been there at the back of our mind for a while. What's happened is, now Guilty Pleasures has been assimilated, supposed 'guilty pleasures' are being recycled, given a lick of paint and a good media plugger and are re-emerging as 'the alternative'. Take Santogold, every one of whose singles since Creator has sounded like the solo work of a different Go-Gos member, Belinda Carlisle on LES Artistes and Jane Weidlin for Lights Out (can't wait for her to have a Gina Schock phase). Take Ladyhawke, who considers it a virtue that she sounds like 80s Fleetwood Mac even though those of us old enough to remember 80s Fleetwood Mac know they were solely the preserve of BBC local radio, BBC1 late night bought in In Concerts and the Montreaux music festivals. Take Chromeo, who can fuck right off. Sam Sparro's songs other than the borderline Black And Gold channel Howard Jones more than electropop. Little Boots, odds on to be the populist choice as the most prominent name in 2009 previews, is Deborah Harry (as in mid-80s solo) replacing Alison Moyet in Yazoo. And so on and so forth, until we reach the shining turd at the pinnacle, Keane, who may not have the gumption to hire pale suits, mirrorballs and two mixed race female backing singers with qualifications in synchronised arm swinging but have completely neutralised any need for a Simple Minds reunion. And for their hitmaking phase once they'd been introduced to New Romanticism Simple Minds were some distance from cool.

Not that it's all immediately point missing - the Mystery Jets and Alphabeat in their own ways recognised that pop from that era was actually about far more than preening chancers in Bogarde suits - but there's something suspicious about the way this is all now being heralded as the pop explosion of the decade-on-decade. What's happened here, and we're by no means the middle class apologist or blinkered indie boy we make out, is that it's as if the whole popism movement has given up. Girls Aloud and the Sugababes are settled into a holding pattern, their cohorts edging away from giving their singles properly forward thinking productions because it might upset commercial radio (side note of interest: one of the many people credited with writing one step away from Atomic Kitten single girls is Anna Macdonald, one of the new Pipettes) and after some GA acknowledgement a couple of years ago it's again as if producers and grown up fans never existed. There's no reason been given yet to get into The Saturdays. Deserved poptimist poster girl Rachel Stevens isn't coming back any time soon. Annie, given a bigger push this time around, put out a single that was a lesser retread of Chewing Gum and has now found spiritual kinship with Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong, "persuading" her major label to put the album release on the back burner not because of poor single sales, you understand, but because it was all wrong and she suddenly has new songs she needs to record for it now, announcing her intention to work with Paul Epworth. If in 2008 you announce an intention to work with 2005's Paul Epworth you may as well apply to audition in High School Musical 4: The College Years for all the musical worth it'll have. We as a collective of the likeminded liked the idea there of having 'our own' pop star, a pop queen in cahoots with the Scandinavian underground, it's just that nobody agreed with 'us'. No wonder the 'alternative' is in a blind panic reaching out for anything that's not Cheryl Cole approved.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekender : hitting and hoping

- There's some huge releases over the night few weeks, as previously noted, but according to our crib list as far as the schedule for new albums goes, assuming new label Anticon don't get the due on November 18th in North America new Anathallo album (better than Sufjan, says one early preview) out in Britain in time, tomorrow we settle all family business. With that in mind, let us gingerly approach the vexing issued of We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. Actually, as you'll know if you've been following this development, this whole 'album' bit is something of a sore point with Team Campesinos!, who are insistent that despite being ten tracks and roughly 32 minutes long this does not qualify as the second LC! album, merely just another 'record'. As point of reference, according to an interview in a magazine the identity of which we've forgotten locally celebrated studio owner Mark Foley calls it an EEP - extended EP (extended extended player?) - and as we know from another Cardiff band Mark Foley was right, so there. It's still given us a proper dilemma with regard to how to deal with it when it comes round to our albums of the year countdown(s), but that's for another time. Specifics? Well, there'll be one run of CDs ever, apparently, in a big old box accompanied by a poster, a self-auteured DVD documentary on their weekends at festivals in August and a 30+ page booklet featuring contributions from the likes of Xiu Xiu, Grandaddy, Menomena, Parenthetical Girls and, somewhat less cross-culturally avant-garde, Paul Heaton. There's music in it as well, and what music it is too. Many have commented with furrowed brows about the three months between Hold On Now Youngster's release and the sessions with John Goodmanson that led to the alb...record coming into surprise to everyone being, and it's really the best of both worlds in terms of development - it won't scare the horses if you rightly adored that first/only album, yet it's darker, more wracked, more beaten down by life, love and not being a a faux-Irish striker who'd turned into a free-scoring French Ligue 2 star, an album that allows itself to be more of a coiled spring grower rather than the bouncy castle indiepop of HON,Y... People will miss this up and down the country - congratulations already to Simon Price, who reckons it sounds like a cross between Helen Love and Bis (somewhat overlooking Ollie, the band's actual non-machine drummer, we feel) - but there's too many ideas continuously coming off the band to allow them to get bogged down preaching to the converted. Musically it seems so much tighter now they're a proper consistently touring outfit, the violin and synths make more of an appearance and Between An Erupting Earth And An Exploding Sky is a 75 second reminder that the founding trio initially thought they'd be a post-rock band. Yes, of course it's stunning, but more than this Los Campesinos!, two al...collections of songs in, have already done it - they sound like nobody but themselves. More power to their fourteen elbows.

Apparently Gareth's taken to slipping the first verse of Kenickie's Millionaire Sweeper into You'll Need Those Fingers For Crossing live. Good work, sir!

- There was supposed to be a new MF Doom album out this week - we suspect the fact we were lining up to write about Born Into This, which is what it was due to be called, will surprise enough of you but whitey here will gladly use all sorts of post-ironic middle class outmoded fake street slang about Madvillainy and MM...Food - but it's been delayed indefinitely. You look surprised. So what else? Ah, Bloc Party, a band whose critical status has been gradually eroding and heading west over the last year and a half or so. They'll never be the wiry, angry band they were for Silent Alarm, too bogged down in the self-inflicted need to get away from a post-punk image that was set for them by others and too wound up in that whole, again unnecessary, believed notion of bold statements about modern life that in retrospect ended up getting wrapped up too often when it looked like it was getting somewhere in reminding us that Kele is part of the London star life by choice, no matter how much he tried to make us believe that he was only doing so out of spite. Kele Okereke - he ordered the foie gras and he ate it with complete disdain. Perhaps as a consequence Intimacy's CD issue seems to have approached without anyone noticing, but it's so nearly there trying to make that ground back up. They've learnt how to carry off an emotional slow love song and they're learning how to mesh their guitar sound with electronics, but the killer rhythm section is still reduced to being recorded through a wall and it's still more concerned with trying to bridge the gap between newness and what we already know of them. Can we blame the unimaginative bringing back for one last go round long spent force Paul Epworth and never started Jacknife Lee, the producers of both their previous albums? Yes, of course we can.

- A good crop of singles this week, although answers on a postcard if you can explain the reissue of Vampire Weekend's A-Punk. About a month ago we confidently stated to a friend that if Hereford's teenage chamber English folkists Gossamer Albatross's debut 7" The Ground Will Take Us Down, produced by Jonquil's Hugo Manuel, got airplay and attention from the right people the classical ambition on show could properly help them take off, such is the evident ambition and ability in these days when much lighter folk (not including Laura Marling, who puts out Night Terror) is given a far easier ride. We sit here on the eve of said 7"'s release with it being given bugger all coverage. It's us, isn't it? It's always us. Anyway, it's wonderful, and so are they. (Not that all that stuff is any less great or true, but Bailiwick have got in touch to tell us that production difficulties have delayed the Gossamer Albatross 7" for the time being) We still can't work out what to really make of Eugene McGuinness' album, so gradually does it unleash the charms that take the young Liverpool-based singer songwriter with thousands of ideas from post-Arctics strummer to preconception shattering stylistic mix-up. Moscow State Circus won't help that status much, as it's all of those things and more within four minutes. On download come the Hot Puppies, whose album ended up being a little too eager to flaunt the breadth of its low-rent glamour influences, both musically and namecheck-worthy, but Clarinet Town was where they got it just right.

After this point follows more reissues, repackages and compilations then you ever knew numbers of albums existed.

- Robert Wyatt is someone who's probably never been given enough due, meandering down his own path these last three decades uninhibited by fashion, backed by style shifting ensemble playing and teetering on his depictions of life real and imaginary, while ensuring that trite statement that pop and politics don't mix is ground into so much fine dust. Domino are reissuing most of his back catalogue, some in mid-November and the second, third and fourth releases now. Rock Bottom is his masterwork, the first after the fall that lost him the use of his legs, an intense, personal affair that lets its sometimes sparse, jazzily impressionistic charms spread slowly but surely, and ends with some glorious Ivor Cutler. Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard rewrites earlier, more out-there songs, and Nothing Can Stop Us is all covers but for one track, covering Strange Fruit, Chic's At Last I Am Free, The Red Flag, Ivor Cutler and left-wing acapella gospel standard Stalin Wasn't Stallin'. All unique in their own ways.

- Also bringing out three old albums for new inspection this week are Buzzcocks (like Pixies, everyone assumes the 'the'), all remastered and with an extra disc apiece of demos and live cuts. Buzzcocks have become known as punk-pop's foremost singles band and the one place everyone says you should start is Singles Going Steady, which is fair enough, but these first three albums have their buzzsaw charm. Another Music In A Different Kitchen features I Don't Mind, Orgasm Addict and What Do I Get?, Love Bites Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've), Love You More and Promises, while A Different Kind Of Tension was the last album of their first phase before innumerable reformations. A word for Martin Rushent, the producer whose guiding hand gives these songs their melodic tension and pinpoint accuracy and would also work to similar effect in their own ways with XTC, Generation X, the Stranglers, Altered Images and The Human League, for whom he produced Dare! before a row with Susanne Sulley led to him walking out and going into semi-retirement, the big jessie.

- Now that everyone has GarageBand or somesuch everyone does remix competitions in these Web 2.0 days, and nobody really listens to the results unless out of a tremendous sense of self-satisfaction. In 1983 all anyone had was turntables, tape and razorblades for cutting purposes when Tommy Boy Records held a competition to find a remix of a track by some long forgotten Afrika Bambaataa proteges. New York early hip hop collectors Steve Stein and Douglas Di Franco, working as Steinski and Double Dee, entered, and the results changed the genre's history. Although Grandmaster Flash had already done his work, Steinski is widely credited with being the first to explore the possibilities of cut and paste sample collages, stringing together song slabs, breakbeats and out of the way vocal samples into what became known as Lesson One, the first of three Lessons that showed what time, effort and ultra careful tape splicing could do for music, a lesson gladly taken up by everyone from Prince Paul to DJ Shadow to Girl Talk. What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective starts with the three Lessons and cherrypicks from everything except his brief spell on a major label, including the celebrated JFK commemoration The Motorcade Sped On, while a second disc is a top notch mix constructed over the course of a year and a half for Coldcut's Solid Steel radio show in 2002. (Our special agent has gone into this in greater detail for TLOBF)

- When Paul Morley quit the NME in 1982 he wanted a new outlet for his ideas of the absurd and of making things happen. Trevor Horn, meanwhile, wanted to form a label. The result was Zang Tumb Tuum (taken from an Italian Futurism poem), ZTT for short, a label that took the in-house agendas and mystique of a Factory with the realpolitik of early 80s chart pop. Result: a lot of records backed with grandiose publicity and lengthy Morley sleevenotes for the likes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Art Of Noise, Propaganda, 808 State, Shane MacGowan, Kirsty MacColl and Seal, all collected along with remixes and rarities in Zang Tumb Tuum: The ZTT Box along with a DVD featuring rare and otherwise videos and a 72 page book featuring interviews, photos and, whaddaya know, a lengthy Morley essay.

- And now, indie. Obviously not indie as Nick Grimshaw knows it, but proper lo-fi DIY indie that sees The Water Rats as ambition, although Comet Gain cleared that particular bar long ago. You'd do well to find a more cussed working British band than Comet Gain, from their famously ramshackle live outings to their Godard, Robert Forster and Kevin Rowland as mods worldview to the already celebrated Indietracks set where of the current six members one turned up with a scratch band (the official aftermath joke: "if I wanted to see a bunch of drunk people playing Comet Gain songs badly, I'd have gone to a Comet Gain gig") The Cribs are huge fans, inviting them as beer boy baffling support a few times and Gary Jarman sitting in on drums for a couple of gigs last year. Broken Record Prayers is, we suppose, as close as they'll get to a best of anthology, a twenty track modern history taking in only the period after the whole band bar frontman David Feck quit in 1997, a collection of A and B sides, Peel session tracks and three new songs. A week late, we know, but alongside this we must raise a flag for the Shop Assistants, a sweet and sour Edinburgh fivesome who were very much in the Jesus & Mary Chain's slipstream but equally at home with the shambling kids. Will Anything Happen? was their sole album, and the careful archivists at Cherry Red would quite like you to enjoy it all again.

- Echo and the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain, an album so off kilter with commercial possibilities of the time and yet so wide in its lush scope that it's influenced both Pavement and Coldplay, seems to be reissued on a bi-weekly basis, but we're assured this is the Collector's Edition with an extra disc of highlights from the band's two gigs at the Royal Albert Hall. The record buyers of the day didn't get it or their Machieavellian manoevures under Bill Drummond, made U2 huge instead and McCulloch's never shut up about it since And while we're about reissuing the stuff you might already have in new packages, Ian Dury's estate presents The Stiff Singles, The Peel Sessions & The Promo Videos, an eight disc box set featuring his seven Stiff Records singles in CD-sized replicas of their original 7" sleeves, the eighth being the first release of the Blockheads' only BBC session, for Peel, obviously. Also in there is the first commercial release of the band's six videos on a DVD and a booklet annotated by Chaz Jankel and Mickey Gallagher. And while we're about post-punk bands raiding those tapes that have been at the back of the drawer for two decades, Magazine start the clock ticking towards February's reunion gigs with the fifteen songs they recorded for The Peel Sessions, only previously issued as part of a long out of print box set and including covers of Sly and the Family Stone's Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) and Captain Beefheart's I Love You, You Big Dummy.

- And after all that, time to sit down with a good book. It's probably a year or two too late to catch their moment in the zeitgeist, but Paul Lester's Gang Of Four: Damaged Gods is the first proper attempt to make out how they hitched left-wing polemic to a virtually entirely new post-punk palette, and had quite a few situations along the way.

MYSPACE INVADERS: Swanton Bombs are one of those increasingly popular setups, the duo, one of whom may also be in the Mules, these having played Latitude and Green Man and supported the Dodos, Cut Off Your Hands and Cajun Dance Party and are about to do the same with Eugene McGuinness. Every review you'll find calls them punk, which proves by and large that amateur reviewers have a really limited stylistic palette - there's an attractive raggedness about them, going from no-nonsense blues riffola to colliding fracturedness at a switch. They're doubtless full of energetic tension live and with production focus have plenty of potential to be eked out. So there.

VISUAL AID: Before all this Christmas in October nonsense we were diving into the world of long forgotten songs by celebrities, and with the topic very much of the day all of a sudden there's clearly far more to harvest. Not least that, while we throw our hands up in horror at Peter Kay signing a publishing deal, someone once put out a single by the Krankies and nobody batted an eyelid. Or bought it, come to that. Double-tracked Wee Jimmy, that's what pop's been missing! Bizarrely, the description claimed it's "BANNED FROM U.K. NO LONGER AVAILABLE" as if it were I Spit On Your Grave rather than leaden glam by a husband and wife children's comedy/variety team. It's entirely possible that, say, Roger Moore could get his Telly Savalas-esque monologue over strings banned by The Man, though. Terry Wogan's The Floral Dance isn't entirely unknown, but his Top Of The Pops performance with an unwise live vocal is worth a look just to wonder what sort of shop sells shirts of that design, and at least he didn't try and play it as the ironic crooner as Jasper Carrott did. But it's not as easy as that in the cut-throat world of cash-in vinyl. We mean, how would you explain to any passing 17 year olds who Lorraine Chase was at her height? And how come YouTube's clip of Alexei Sayle's 'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?, not you'd imagine the easiest of songs to travel the world with, is from Australian TV? So yeah, we could go on at length about Cliff Richard and the Young Ones' Living Doll or the Goodies outwitting the Bay City Rollers, but let us instead consider the plight of the household name who thinks they can make a go of this. Tommy Cooper had had a minor hit in 1961 with Don't Jump Off The Roof Dad, a cover of an American comedy song, and fourteen years later was tempted back into the studio to lay down two songs based on catchphrases, Just Like That and Magic Magic. Listen to that xylophone! And that beery backing singer chorus! And the way the B-side isn't really anything but a monologue incorporating coining of Stu Francis' catchphrase at 5:00!

* It can't really be every week that we pass on an appeal from really rather good current subjects of the STN Gigging Curse 4 Or 5 Magicians for new members on the offchance, but sometimes it feels like it. Dan? "Drummer #1 left to concentrate on a Physics degree then moved to America. Drummer #2 went to Switzerland for a year. Drummer #3 quit to concentrate on his other band where he sings and plays piano (Stars And Sons, if you must know - ed.) Drummer #4 has also just moved to Swtizerland believe it or not... We need a committed drummer, either in London, Brighton, or the south-east, or willing to move there, to join up. You don't have to currently be at a completely loose end, but you will need to be able to play gigs in London and Brighton and the surrounding areas on any given night of the week, about once a week (on average) for the foreseeable future, and be willing to quit your job / university or whatever (should it not be flexible) should the opportunity to tour more frequently arise / be necessary at some point early next year." Don't contact us, because we're not them, message the band direct.

* So you may know about Train Driver In Eyeliner, the fantastic sounding bill at the London Forum tomorrow celebrating the life of Nick Sanderson (Earl Brutus, J&MC etc) featuring the Jesus And Mary Chain, British Sea Power and Black Box Recorder. As an extra source, BSP are auctioning off a 7" of Remember Me inscribed to and adorned in tribute to Sanderson via their forum, closing at 6pm Tuesday. As with the gig, all proceeds to Nick's family.

* Some downloads. Big Scary Monsters like to deliver the goods, and the latest delivery is their Autumn Collection of six songs, this one with the likes of Tubelord and This Town Needs Guns on it. Up the other end of the commercial spectrum James Masterton, who writes the chart commentaries for Yahoo! Music, also does a weekly chart podcast, and in a special edition Counting Down The Hits discovers the art and fortunes of the Sunday afternoon chart show rundown itself, including comments from the current and former Hit 40 UK hosts and Joel from previous Radio 1 incumbents JK & Joel.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Weekly Sweep

  • Broken Records - Lies [YouTube]
  • Clinic - Tomorrow [YouTube]
  • The Deirdres - Milk Is Politics [YouTube]
  • Dinosaur Pile-Up - My Rock'N'Roll [Myspace]
  • Emmy The Great - We Almost Had A Baby [YouTube]
  • Eugene McGuinness - Moscow State Circus [YouTube]
  • Fleet Foxes – He Doesn’t Know Why [YouTube]
  • Gossamer Albatross - The Ground Will Take Us Down [Myspace]
  • Grammatics - The Vague Archive [Myspace]
  • Hello Saferide - Anna [YouTube]
  • The Hot Puppies - Clarinet Town
  • Jeremy Warmsley - Craneflies [live Youtube]
  • Laura Marling - Night Terror [YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - Ways To Make It Through The Wall [Myspace]
  • Lykke Li - Little Bit [YouTube]
  • Rose Elinor Dougall - Another Version Of Pop Song [Myspace]
  • Sky Larkin - Fossil, I [YouTube]
  • Thomas Tantrum - Rage Against The Tantrum [Myspace]
  • The Walkmen - The Blue Route [live YouTube]
  • The Week That Was - Learn To Learn [YouTube]
  • Friday, October 24, 2008

    Oh bloody hell

    MUSIC: Orange Unsigned Act
    On: Channel 4
    Date: Sunday 2nd November 2008 (starting in 8 days)
    Time: 12:40 to 13:45 (1 hour and 5 minutes long)

    Alex Zane hosts the second series of the search for the best unsigned music act in the UK. At stake is a huge record contract with Universal Music. This year Lauren Laverne joins the panel alongside Alex James and the man who signed Duffy, Simon Gavin.
    Excerpt taken from DigiGuide - the world's best TV guide available from

    Copyright (c) GipsyMedia Limited.

    Nostalgia television

    As ITV celebrate 25 years since 1983, surely Bob Mills' In Bed With Medinner takes on the third channel's 1979-1980 disco dancing fad are worth a look:

    Ken Campbell?! (Shame nobody in the audience recognised him, though)

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Someone to drive you mad

    The reason we can never fully go along with the whole 'landfill indie' backlash no matter how genuine the rotten-ness of the bands corralled into it is its inherent smugness, the way it's always approached as if finally some great truth (that everyone else spotted at inception, maybe even Mark Beaumont) can be revealed, the approach of being told who to hate because it's easier than listing who to love. A lot of people crowed about the Independent article that crystallised all this, but essentially it was a journalist being given two pages of a major national newspaper to list bands they didn't like as if they were an eleven year old writing in their rough book.

    (In fact, we get far more annoyed by those who present themselves as some sort of alternative despite having precisely the same number of ideas, because at least commercial guitar bands aren't trying to hide their Pete Doherty ambitions. If we must play this facile game between us, we'd honestly rather see Late Of The Pier split than The View.)

    Eventually, this is what it leads to - the self-same newspaper getting someone to list bands they think should split up. Nyah nyah nyah-nyah nyah. It'd be uniquely cloying even if the springboard for it wasn't an incident nobody affected could really help, the Long Blondes split (you know, the Long Blondes who endless commentators reassured us were nothing like the commercial indie you hate) Indeed, the only levity from the piece comes when you read it and realise Cat Gordon clearly didn't know (/care?) about Dorian's stroke being the breakup catalyst, just saw a headline somewhere about it and decided to write a piece celebrating

    before an editor took them aside to mention that it might seem a touch insensitive at the moment, hence that pasted in "actually they had some really good songs, I don't mean them harm really" second paragraph, which given they then forget to edit out the way they immediately declare medical incapacitation has "made my day" and spend the rest of the piece going 'look at me listing bands I don't like!' regardless, which even Gordon runs out of patience with before the end ("The Editors - we haven’t got time" - yes you have, it's a blog and you haven't explained yourself through choice because you've decided you can't be arsed) is astonishingly jarring.

    Funnily enough, nobody on the Independent's sports desk has today listed rugby league players they'd like to see in car crashes.

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    The Primer #3: Joe Meek

    A certain sphere of music criticism enjoys celebrating the underdog, those that sold nothing in their day but went on to be surface influential to those who conquered the world. It's not the same for producers, for whom the most progressively minded producers (not as in those who produce themselves, let's make clear) are still seeing themselves as bringing their ideas to the pop sphere, so whether it be Sam Philips, Phil Spector, Norman Whitfield, Arif Mardin, George Martin, Trevor Horn, Tony Visconti, Timbaland or whoever, these are all producers whose clients are instantly recognisable throughout the ages.

    Joe Meek was as much a pop producer at heart as any of those, albeit for a shorter period (three UK number ones), yet his pioneering DIY and independently rebellious auteur image has given him the kind of outsider status that cults thrive on. Following the close friends, associates and fans interviewing documentary released to art festival showings earlier this year A Life In The Death Of Joe Meek comes the premiere as part of the London Film Festival on 25th October and again on the 28th of Telstar, the film of the well regarded play co-written, adapted and directed by Nick Moran, starring acclaimed musical actor Con O'Neill as Meek and also featuring Kevin Spacey, Pam Ferris, Ralf Little, James Cordon, Rita Tushingham, Nigel Harman, erm, Carl Barat and Justin Hawkins. High time, then, to look into why he's so revered.

    Robert George Meek, born 1929 in Newent, Forest Of Dean (home to the National Birds of Prey Centre and Europe's largest cul-de-sac) had an early interest in putting on a show, staging magic shows for children and being dressed as a girl by his mother. It was a fascination with electrics that was his real first love, though, building his own gadgets by taking the backs of old radios and record players, rigging up nascent PAs and setting up a mobile DJing kit. A National Service spell in the RAF as a radar technician helped his interest along. After demob, he bought an acetate disc cutter and in 1953 moved to London to become a sound engineer for a radio production company that made programming for Radio Luxembourg and then a studio recording engineer, and would surreptitously add effects and tricks onto recordings regardless of whether he'd been asked to. One such ploy saw him mess with the final mix of Humphrey Lyttleton's Bad Penny Blues, putting the piano part to the front and distorting the bass. It became trad jazz's first top 20 single. By day working in studios, he set up a small recording facility in his flat where he'd record tone deaf demos of songs he'd written, mostly inspired by his point of obsession hero Buddy Holly.

    After being sacked from Lansdowne Recording Studios (where the Sex Pistols would later record Anarchy In The UK, following any number of 60s British Invaders) due to a clash of personalities with the owner, in 1960 Meek co-founded Triumph Records, possibly the first British independent label. One of its first releases was his own I Hear a New World - An Outer Space Music Fantasy. Playing on Meek's penchant for outer space and equipment manipulation and largely made flesh by The Blue Men, an adapted skiffle group, it was Meek's largely instrumental attempt "to create a picture in music of what could be up there in outer space", a blend of the band, found sounds, electronic pulses and special effects that was less late 50s kitsch the subject might suggest than presaging psychedelia and Eno ambient. Due to finance issues only the first side came out as an EP, the whole album not fully issued until 1991 (the 2002 reissue has a half hour interview with Meek about his processes added).

    Joe Meek/The Blue Men - I Hear A New World

    There were more conventional releases, most notably teenage fantasy Angela Jones by Michael Cox, heavily supported by Jack Good's television programmes and making number seven, arguably not going higher due to Triumph's inability to press enough copies through independent pressing plants. The label proved to be somewhat short of cost effective, but a rich toy emporter benefactor stepped in and enabled Meek to set up RGM Sound Ltd and upgrade both studio and flat to a premises above a leather goods shop on 304 Holloway Road, N7.

    Photo adapted for size from Houseplant Picture Studio, which also reveals the leather goods shop is now a cycle store

    Holloway Road wasn't the most comfortable of settings, being on the third floor, but Meek knew he now had the room and wherewithal to do what he pleased with the sounds he was trying to create. He knew he couldn't create them without a sideman, though, and through publisher auditions met Geoff Goddard, a Royal Academy of Music trained pianist whom Meek briefly attempted to launch as Anton Hollywood. It was as a writer he'd become more successful, not least when the first release from the new studios became a number one. John Leyton was a rising young actor (in fact he briefly appears in Telstar) who like many a successful with teenagers actor of the day was hastened towards the studio, and after a couple of flops Goddard offered the orchestral death disc Johnny Remember Me, which he would claim had been written with the aid of a seance. The recording session itself leant itself to many a Meek legend, with vocals recorded in the bathroom and a string section arranged on the stairs for the acoustics necessary to create the eerie, echoey sound Meek had made his own, plus the then in-house backing band The Outlaws, including future Dave cohort Chas Hodges. At the time Leyton was appearing in ITV department store drama Harpers West One as a character called Johnny St. Cyr and his manager arranged for the song to be mock-performed on the show, with the required chart results.

    John Leyton - Johnny Remember Me

    Nobody had heard a hit quite like this before, especially not one that clocked up five weeks atop the chart, and Meek's setup became an industry talking point, as much anti ("a recording studio is the place to record" one columnist railed) as pro, Meek claiming "I make records to entertain the public, not square connoisseurs who just don’t know”. A lot of his recordings weren't hits at all, but most were deeply fascinating. Overseen by a pair of men deeply fascinated by the occult and taken to visiting graveyards and haunting sites overnight, Screaming Lord Sutch, whose stage antics essentially invented Alice Cooper, recorded and plotted outlandish publicity stunts with Joe, and The Moontrekkers' Night Of The Vampire was banned by the BBC and has been credited with inventing goth about two decades too early (the band hadn't been instrumental until Meek worked with them, although the singer's sacking is something we doubt Rod Stewart has had much cause to bemoan lately). Some of these recordings were known to have been rejected by labels and mastertape cutting engineers as they would damage domestic speakers.

    The Moontrekkers - Night Of The Vampire

    For a good period of this time Meek had his next big success under his nose but hadn't realised it until his latest in-house band were asked to back Billy Fury on tour. The Tornados - Alan Caddy on lead guitar, Heinz Burt on bass, Matt Bellamy of Muse's father George on rhythm guitar, Roger Lavern on keyboards and drummer Clem Cattini (who went on to hold the record for most UK number ones played on, appearing on 44 chart toppers ranging from It's Not Unusual, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore and You Don't Have to Say You Love Me to Grandad, Two Little Boys and Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West) - were the guinea pigs for Meek's tribute to the AT&T communications satellite Telstar, which went into orbit in July 1962, five weeks before the single named after it was released. Making heavy use of Goddard's clavioline keyboard and inspired by I Hear A New World's advances, it not only topped the UK chart for five weeks but the Billboard Hot 100 for three, making the Tornados the first UK band to have a US number one, estimated worldwide sales standing at five million. Famously, it was also one of Margaret Thatcher's Desert Island Discs. The band did have other hits, Globetrotter reaching number five and Robot nineteen, but Meek was by this time high on the hog and buying ever more equipment for the studio, at least until French composer, Jean Ledrut accused Meek of plagiarism, claiming that the tune of Telstar had been copied from his own earlier work Le Marche d'Austerlitz. It is now thought very unlikely that Meek would have been aware of Ledrut, but the resultant lawsuit prevented him from receiving any further royalties until 1968, by which time it was too late.

    The Tornados - Telstar

    The Tornados' German bass player, Heinz Burt, wasn't allowed to merely drift away, however. Homosexual Meek - a lot of his depression and paranoia has been attributed to his feelings over his sexual proclivities, not legalised in the UK until 1967 - had taken an unconsummated shine to Burt, and when Goddard came up with Eddie Cochran tribute Just Like Eddie Meek, who had already split Burt from both band and professional surname, persuaded him to record it with yet another Meek band, The Saints, plus Outlaws guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (later of Deep Purple and Rainbow). A number five in August 1963, Meek was now in position where he could independently record a string of unknowns and sell the results to the major labels for big money, meaning the Meek rarities market is almost as crowded as the Northern Soul catalogue.

    On November 11th 1963 Meek, who was as openly homosexual as the times would allow, was arrested for "importuning for immoral purposes" in a gents near the studio and fined £15, a possible set up and certainly one that would lead to incidents of blackmail which didn't help his mental state or legendary fits of temper. Additionally the beat group era who were more reliant on self-written songs and the pure pop of melody rather than svengali producers was on his tail with the rise of the Beatles and Merseybeat, although one such group, The Honeycombs, came under Meek's auspices. Famed at the time for having a female drummer, one Honey Lantree who supposedly inspired Karen Carpenter to take up the drums, they provided him with his last UK number one, the stomping Have I The Right featuring a bass drum sound achieved by the group stamping on the stairs of the studio, the underside of which had been attached four microphones.

    However, the success came at a personal price - Geoff Goddard launched legal proceedings claiming that the prolific Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley had plagirised his own Give Me The Chance, and not only lost but saw Meek side against him. Goddard left Holloway Road employment and faded out of the business, taking a job in catering at Reading University where he ended up working in the kitchens (his later colleagues included two hard-up students who became Yan and Noble of British Sea Power, who would write The Lonely about him) and died in May 2000.

    Meek's professional life was coming apart at the seams. Tom Jones, who he'd auditioned and turned down, was having hits. The Tornados and Heinz were fading away while the Honeycombs fell apart within two years. The deals Meek signed with major labels were full of loopholes and financing wasn't there. Meek was heavily into pills, including LSD, and seances, an unwise combination. Some of his music was as inventive as ever, moving on to psychedelia, Mod and freakbeat...

    The Syndicats - Crawdaddy Simone
    Glenda Collins - It's Hard To Believe It

    ...and after Merseybeat band The Cryin' Shames took a Meek produced cover of The Drifters' Please Stay to the top thirty in 1966 Brian Epstein supposedly offered his more famous charges to Meek with no dice, and when a London visiting Phil Spector called to express his love of the sound an increasingly paranoid Meek, who already believed Decca were bugging the premises, angrily accused Spector of stealing his ideas before hanging up. Meek ended up placing listening devices around the studio in case musicians were talking about him. At one point he was found beaten up and unconscious in his car, perhaps related to gangland threats against the Tornados as much as those around his sexuality.

    When in January 1967 police found the body of Bernard Oliver, an alleged rent boy and past associate, mutilated and disposed of in a suitcase, Meek was alarmed when reports sugested police would be interviewing all known homosexuals in the city. On 3rd February 1967, the eighth anniversary of his hero Buddy Holly's death, heavily in debt and drug-paranoid, Meek was attempting to record his latest studio assistant when landlady Violet Shenton was called up, Meek believed to have been on the verge of being thrown out for non-payment of rent. Meek had a single barreled shotgun, registered to Heinz Burt and confiscated by Meek some time before when Burt left after a brief period living in the property. He now retrieved it and used it to blast Shenton in the back of the head, before turning it on himself. He was subsequently buried at Newent Cemetery.

    Meek's legacy took some time to reassert itself, largely through the work of collectors and obscurists from the late 70s onwards. A 1991 BBC2 Arena documentary, The Strange Story Of Joe Meek (which we've found on torrent sites if you're interested) is credited with kickstarting the renaissance as well as a reissue and excavation program which continues. His influence is felt across music, from pop producers to leftfield beatmakers, both Orbital and Saint Etienne regarding him as a major inspiration. He pioneered effects in overdubbing, tape manipulation, miking, distortion, compression, reverb, instrument seperation, recording of rhythm sections, composite recording and sampling found sounds, always taking the sound spectrum first ahead of the tune, single-mindedly searching for a unique sonic signature for each record, these out of the way, supposedly unworkable advances now treated as standard. Unlike his contemporary Phil Spector, he wouldn't hire great numbers of musicians and backing singers to create the overwhelming effect but would record individually and mix together as he wanted. Meek turns up as a character in acclaimed gangland novel The Long Firm - writer Jake Arnott has a cameo role in the film - and songs have been written in his honour by the likes of Wreckless Eric, Graham Parker and, if you believe her story of the background to her single A Change Would Do You Good, Sheryl Crow. Meek may not be the most famous name outside certain circles, but his working methods were as groundbreaking as his life was fraught.

    Further reading:
    The Joe Meek Appreciation Society, formed in 1991, is "dedicated to keeping Joe Meek's name and his musical legacy alive" and runs a full membership scheme as well as keeping track on all current movements. This, oddly, is not to be confused with Joe Meek RGMAS. Meanwhile the dual language The Joe Meek Page attempts an entire discography. There's a few newspaper and magazine pieces we've trawled to write the above, but Jon Savage's essay for Observer Music Monthly on Meek's homosexuality, with reference to celebrated Tornados B-side Do You Come Here Often?, adds extra background for the times.

    BUYER'S GUIDE: As stated somewhere in there, new discoveries are turning up all the time, the so-called "Tea Chest demos" as all his tapes were kept in 67 tea chests still being excavated - 1850 such tapes recently failed to sell at general auction despite including in the haul early recordings of Tom Jones, Gene Vincent and Billy Fury, plus David Bowie's first band The Konrads. Joe Meek: The RGM Legacy - Portrait of a Genius is a four disc box set that attempts a whole career overview, including rarities, demos, interview clips and alternate versions, plus liner notes by Bob Stanley. Telstar - The Hits Of Joe Meek reduces the 'hits' to two discs and 36 tracks on Sanctuary's budget promotion, while It's Hard To Believe It - The Amazing World Of Joe Meek is a more judiciously cherrypicked 21 track compilation. 56 track Joe Meek: The Alchemist of Pop fits somewhere in the middle. The EP Collection recreates twelve four-track EPs, including Telstar. I Hear A New World is reissued every so often. Let's Go - Joe Meek's Girls shows he could work really well with female singers, including the Sharades, the trio we singled out in the girl group Primer, while Joe Meek Freak Beat: You're Holding Me Down demonstrates that as the 60s wore on he didn't lose all his rampaging touch.

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Weekender : now we can olly and we're not so shite

    WHAT CD?
    - Apart from Okkervil River's The Stand Ins, which we dealt with last week, not much leaps out this week, Peter, Bjorn & John's Seaside Rock curio worth little more than passing attention and the realisation that we didn't mention Fireworks Night's A Mirror A Ghost last week leavened by the equal reasoning that we've not actually heard any of it. So, one from deep in left field it is. Defunct, little heard and had their name swiped by a Norwegian group they may have been, but Alexandria Quartet have gone into STN folklore for being the first band to send us badges with their CD. To continue the largesse, their leader's current band Adam Donen and The Drought's As Our Parents Slowly Turn To Clay (not on Amazon, link to Myspace for preorder details) is being released inside a 32 page book of the album's lyrics set out as poetry, with iillustrations, acknowledgements and a seven page introduction written by Donen's friend and pianist which casually drops in towards the end the assertion that "history will come to judge them (the verse) as being at least as good as any poems produced by our generation". Well, even a journey of a million miles must begin with a single step and all that. As music it shapes up pretty well, mind. Donen clearly has a way with an elliptical allegories, equal parts cathartic howls and brooding mea culpas - mostly written, that preface says, in a trance-like state - and arranging it into a judiciously powered ragged folk-rock that variously recalls Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, the Waterboys, Whipping Boy and latter day British Sea Power. Oh, and there's a track called Ganesh Whose Trunk Wipes Away Trubba (Plays Dice In The Abyss Of Infinity). For something created with such exacting standards for what seems to be being painted as some sort of Coleridge of lit-rock setting, it's well worth investigating.

    - Of course 'Couples' had to be followed by 'Singles'! It's been largely overlooked in the last couple of years how long the Long Blondes were plugging away on Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation and Angular Records before Rough Trade took the plunge. While the band are out of action (Dorian is by all accounts slowly but surely on the mend), this is a timely compilation of their 7"s on those labels, which means the rough around the edges charm of the likes of Appropriation (By Any Other Name), Lust In The Movies, Autonomy Boy, New Idols and the original Giddy Stratospheres get their due.

    - You complete and utter shower of bastards. Alright, you weren't to know that we didn't receive our pre-order of How We Became until a week after release, but you could have at least dropped a hint that we're thanked in the acknowledgements. It's like when the press team working for a band whose early singles we went on about at length sent us their album and mentioned in passing that the press release previous to that one had quoted us. (Much obliged, sir.) Jeremy Warmsley, of course, and the war tango Dancing With The Enemy is out as a single tomorrow. Quite a few other singles of note, not least more old friends in the shape of Sky Larkin, who've joined the generous geniuses of Wichita (who also put out Bloc Party's Talons tomorrow) and make their bow for that label with Fossil, I. They've been out recording their album with John Goodmanson and for a full and fun night out are playing dates both this Tuesday in London and across various bits of the country in a month's time with Those Dancing Days. Again, if you haven't got the Fleet Foxes album from which He Doesn’t Know Why comes from then you're nobody, while just because we can see why Universal are putting Noah & The Whale's Shape Of My Heart out again doesn't mean we fully approve. Herman Dune, Silvery and Robert Wyatt & Bertrand Burgalat complete the 'in the Sweep in the past' collection.

    - It was often overlooked in both life and obituaries, although you could understand why, how great a writer John Peel was, from his sprawling, freeform 1970s festival reports for the Observer through to his weekly Radio Times column, all in the same style and lightness he brought to his radio links. This year's contribution to the increasing fading John Peel Day commemoration is The Olivetti Chronicles - most of them were bashed out on an old Olivetti typewriter - an anthology of his copy selected by Sheila, Thomas, Danda, William and Flossie covering everything from Oz to Bike, Gandalf's Garden to the Observer.

    MYSPACE INVADERS: No, no meek post-post-punk revival or gloomy folkies this week. Three Trapped Tigers are free jazz electronica to some, a British Battles to others, not strictly the case but certainly having a better claim to it than previous press contenders for that title Foals. Led by Tom Rogerson, electric piano maestro recently transferred from Jeremy Warmsley's band to hunch over the keys in Emmy The Great's (has that bit blown the gaff on our attempt to seem newly experimentally inclined?), and also featuring Adam Betts, drummer with now defunct and much admired/feared Optimist Club, and guitarist/synthist Matt Calvert, they take the drawn out precision of math-rock and compress it into tense, elaborate slabs of build and release-driven intensity, shuttling between full throttle electronica-influenced passages and ambient segments that allow time for the next wave to hit, intricate cross-threading of movements and time signatures forefront. Lesser similarly inclined bands have been lauded far greater.

    VISUAL AID: You'd expect us to follow our long held admiration for curious TV bookings by pointing up Seasick Steve on the Paul O'Grady Show, wouldn't you? And indeed we have, but that's not what we're specifically here for. In fact, such was the gold buried in last week's 1967 Christmas Top Of The Pops that we investigated further to this week bring you the 1983 festive show. Actually, festive show number two - the first had been on Christmas Day itself with the possibly overstaffed numbers of Simon Bates, Janice Long, Andy Peebles and Mike Smith introducing the big names, which just left...
    One: Peter Powell, Tommy Vance, 80s glasses sporting Adrian John, Woo Gary Davies and life of any pop party Richard Skinner. Now, that's just dangerous overmanning, not to mention too much polyester sportswear for one fully neon lit and electrified television studio. It's the JoBoxers! Then dull old Mike Oldfield, then the Thompson Twins and Alannah Currie's improbable hair and extravagant percussive work.
    Two: Is it time Tracey Ullman had a critical renaissance? Even among Stiff's waifs and strays she gets played down, but what a great reading of Kirsty Maccoll's They Don't Know this is. That's followed by a well before self-aware of image Robert Smith doing away with the niceties of a microphone while fronting up the Cure's The Love Cats. Then it's Jonathan King in New York, and we know King has a habit of turning up on message boards where he's mentioned in whatever context so we'll gloss over all the other connections except the spectacularly characterless reading of the top ten sellers in America that year and let you join the mental dots.
    Three: The three Phil Collinses do You Can't Hurry Love, then "you've heard of Men Without Hats? These are women with hats", although only three of the seven Belle Stars representatives on stage are betitfered if you don't count the drummer's tinsel crown. There is nothing to say about Paul Young.
    Four: Here's Cap'n Bob Smith again during his short period returning to Siouxsie and the Banshees, a marked contrast to Spandau Ballet in full accountant garb.
    Five: "One of the big names to emerge in '84 is going to be Howard Jones". How can he emerge the year after he started having hits, Peter? Especially as hindsight tells us that his two 1983 hits, New Song and What Is Love?, are the two he's now remembered most for. It's the latter here, Howard constantly forgetting to mime either keyboard or singing into the mike and Jed's literal mental chains covered in tinsel. Of course they are! "Absolute football fanatic" Rod Stewart can't compete, not even doing Baby Jane.
    Six: "When chilblains and turkey were just a thing of the future" the Style Council were having a hit with Long Hot Summer, Weller recreating synth burbles on a big white grand piano. We finish in the studio with "the year of Culture Club", George quite restrained in the circumstances, while Ofcom would have something to say nowadays about the size of the Puma logo on Mikey Craig's top.

    * Give a band an inch and they'll take a mile, and while we're aware that we're not the only fonts of knowledge on the Internet... well, all we'll state is the fact that, three months after we harvested a playlist from Sky Larkin, they've put together their own stream of their favourite listens of the last month, including Boards Of Canada, TV On The Radio, Les Savy Fav, Why?, Kelis, BARR and the Shop Assistans for the P4K generation, Vivian Girls.

    * ballboy's Gordon McIntyre has always been one of our favourite ideas men and wordsmiths, so we welcome the news that he's co-written a play. Midsummer is co-scribed by David Greig ("the most consistently interesting, prolific and artistically ambitious writer of his generation" - The Scotsman) and includes original songs and score written for the show. It opens at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh this Friday and runs through to 15th November.

    * Yesterday we woke up to the news that our longtime compadre Phonogram's Kieron Gillen has written a comic about Sweeping The Nation. We mean, we're flattered, but... ah, but no - a-ha-ha-ha! - it's about the song Sweeping The Nation by Spearmint, as part of This Is A Souvenir, a 200+ page multi-authored comic book anthology of stories based on Spearmint songs published on January 28th.

    * So a few weeks ago we went down to London, and within ten minutes of leaving the tube knew we were there when we saw a midday fight outside that Walkabout on the Embankment. Our afternoon was spent at Smalltown America's This Ain't No Picnic, and we'll forgive STA for spelling the link to this blog wrongly in their list of thanks in their mailout this week and instead guide the curious to a two part film of the event, featuring performances by the Young Playthings and Alan MX. We're not in it, but we know our programme is, which is fine by us.

    * We get a lot of emails in the STN inbox, and once we've sorted the spam out we're left with a healthily productive number. A lot tell us about gigs we can't get to or include links for songs that we forget about (ha ha, not really, we listen to everything we get sent, even if we immediately delete it and hope nobody's looking at our account at that moment). Occasionally someone even asks nicely for a mention, and so it is with, as it actually appears to be called, featuring North American gig reviews, interviews (The Acorn, Le Loup, Daedelus), fifty word album reviews and proper articles.

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    The Weekly Sweep

    Rich time for new tracks, this, which means thirty rather than twenty for one more week:

  • Abe Vigoda - Bear Face [Myspace]
  • Adam Donen and the Drought - Five Minute Zeitgeist [Myspace]
  • Broken Records - Lies [YouTube]
  • Chris T-T - We Are The King Of England [YouTube]
  • Dananananaykroyd - Pink Sabbath [YouTube]
  • The Decemberists - Valerie Plame [Myspace] (First in the Always The Bridesmaid 7" single series, and almost needless to say out last week)
  • Elbow - The Bones Of You [YouTube] (Saw them live this week; were amazing, especially Newborn and Weather To Fly)
  • Emmy The Great - We Almost Had A Baby [YouTube]
  • Eugene McGuinness - Moscow State Circus [YouTube]
  • Fleet Foxes – He Doesn’t Know Why [YouTube]
  • Gossamer Albatross - The Ground Will Take Us Down [Myspace]
  • Grammatics - New Franchise [Myspace]
  • Hello Saferide - Anna [YouTube]
  • i concur - Oblige [live YouTube]
  • Ipso Facto - Six And Three Quarters [YouTube]
  • Jeremy Warmsley - Craneflies [live Youtube]
  • The Kabeedies - Treasure Hunting [Myspace]
  • Laura Marling - Night Terror [YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - Death To Los Campesinos! (Napoleon IIIrd remix) [remix Myspace]
  • Noah & The Whale - Shape Of My Heart [YouTube]
  • Okkervil River - Pop Lie [Myspace]
  • Robert Wyatt & Bertrand Burgalat - This Summer Night [Making its Sweep debut, DailyMotion]
  • Rose Elinor Dougall - Another Version Of Pop Song [Myspace]
  • The Sexual Objects - Here Come The Rubber Cops [label Myspace] (New band of Davey Henderson, formerly of the Fire Engines, Win and Nectarine No. 9)
  • Silvery - Action Force [Myspace]
  • Sky Larkin - Fossil, I [YouTube]
  • Stars And Sons - In The Ocean [Myspace video]
  • Thomas Tantrum - Rage Against The Tantrum [Myspace] (Shake It Shake It is on a T-Mobile advert at the moment, surely entirely for the chorus line, but the reaction of the unknowing would really be something if only they found out)
  • Vampire Weekend - A-Punk [YouTube]
  • Wild Beasts - Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants [YouTube]
  • Friday, October 17, 2008

    Games kit

    Big drumkits. You don't see those any more, do you? OK, we're sure that bands doing one more round for the heavy rock fathers - Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Kiss - have enormosets, but in this 80s revival going on we're surprised bands aren't taking to arena stages with ridiculous numbers of tom-toms and snares and a couple of gongs just in case. Even the Darkness' Ed Graham was behind a fairly standard set while all around was post-ironic excess.

    And don't think it was just pyro-friendly sex'n'drugs'n'rock'n'roll types either. Look at the mother that turns up 2:08 into this!

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Trims, new braking

    ...and everything else needed on a tour bus required to carry three bands.

    If, like us, you're missing out on the Los Viking Age touring feast they call Shred Yr Face, there's proper interactive elements to heighten the feeling of missing out

    Chief of these is a comprehensive website, featuring blogs from both a reporter in situ and perhaps even sober musicians, plus a shedload of videos of performances and stuff, including the tantalising "Gareth LC! rates albums in Resident Records! One second reviews" Being the even more modern age, they've got a Twitter too.

    With reference to the poster behind Gareth's head in the site's introductory video, Kenickie's last gig was ten years ago today. Whenever we see something like Lauren answering a question about biggest fashion mistakes "using an entire can of glitter spray before each gig when we went on stage" like it was something to be ashamed of, we still mourn. UPDATE: Kieron has his tribute up; Ben Hall of our vague acquaintance has put up a whole Reading Festival set.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Say goodbye to a few hours

    Because we've just found out (OK, via Popjustice, but still) that Universal are slowly putting their whole video back catalogue on YouTube, 7809 of the blighters at the time of writing and no Ballroom or Let Loose left unturned.

    Clearly we've taken note of a lot to put on our YouTube channel, but the overall scope is simply ridiculous. You're merrily gazing through the endless lists when you stumble across long forgotten pieces of our shared musical history, such as Double Barrel-sampling, Geoff Barrow of Portishead produced 2003 version of UK soul's future McKay, ABC's career levelling Fairlight-friendly How To Be A Millionaire, Apache Indian, Holly Johnson's solo career or these twats. Then you're diverted by Brix Smith's The Adult Net, one of Adam Ant's attempted comeback singles that we loved at the time and now can barely listen to and maybe even, spare us, Bob Geldof's The Great Song Of Indifference, an attempt at levity about which the only notable thing is the story Stuart Maconie tells of seeing him perform it on a European TV show and the host greeting him afterwards with "that was a very funny song", only to have "it's not meant to be funny" hissed back at him. Who's ever heard Tetris by Doctor Spin (Andrew Lloyd Webber was involved somewhere in it) in the fifteen years since release? Or seen the rare video for Elastica's Car Song, in which an Annieless band become glamorous PVC Ghostbusters and Donna accidentally flashes her knickers at camera at least twice? And then you realise the day has passed you by without your doing anything but having five YouTube enabled browsers open at once.

    All of which leaves one question, if one that some of you may suffer deja vu on.

    What the fuck is this?

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Shop early for Christmas

    Here's something interesting, albeit slightly touched on before. We don't quite understand why - after all, nobody has their Christmas lists sorted with more than eleven weeks to go - but October 2nd was the year's big day in publishing. That was the date of release for a lot of the big hitters publishers expect to do business among festive shoppers, from Michael Parkinson's autobiography to the Stephen Fry In America tie-in (a week and a half before the series). The idea is get the author to do heavy promotion now and it'll carry through to mid-December.

    The record industry in Britain used to work differently. Common belief was that all major new releases had to get out of the way in September and October in preparation for the flood of cash in Best Ofs, repackages and restocking of albums from the newspaper best of the year lists, leaving no room for marketers to do their worst. As recently as two years ago many noted that Joanna Newsom's Ys was being pitched into the middle of a dead period for new albums, being as it was released on November 13th.

    This year, however, things are different. Whether through the triumph of downloads or the precarious nature of major label finances forcing their hand to keep going all year, this November and even early December sees new albums released by Kanye West, the Killers, Dido, Razorlight, Britney Spears, Girls Aloud, 50 Cent, Lemar, Tom Jones, Nickelback, Outkast's Big Boi and now, who'd have thought, Guns 'n Roses. A time when all concerned's thoughts are usually headed Christmas number one-wards seem to have waved that white flag in the face of X Factor-dom and realised that they have all this new long form material that just can't wait, with the knock-on effect that January, traditionally the month huge new acts are launched, is looking fairly dead, Lily Allen's second album in mid-February at the moment kickstarting the major releases list for 2009. Either everyone suddenly got prolific three or four months ago, or someone's indulging in group panicking.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Weekender : more alive than alert

    WHAT CD?
    - As we were saying last week, four live contenders for our end of year list, and actually probably the last contenders to be released in 2008 (assuming you count Intimacy as already out and follow that gumph about how We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is a record rather than an album - we're not kidding, wondering what the hell to do with that come countdown time has been taking up a significant amount of our STN-related thoughts recently), listed here in the order that we've covered the band in the past on here. So, to start with, the small matter of the follow-up to the STN album of 2007. Actually it's not even that simple, as The Stand Ins was initially intended to be the second disc of The Stage Names and now emerges as a kind of souped up equivalent of their previous Black Sheep Boy Appendix, a 11 track 40 minute effort even if three of those tracks are sub-60 second instrumental connecting pieces. Musically it's largely a call back to the ballad directness and Motown heartrenches of The Stage Names, only with a couple of notably poppier tracks and a couple of more country tinged songs that hark back as far as their first album Down The River Of Golden Dreams. Lyrically, if The Stage Names was about entertainment as opposed to reality, this is how reality is brought low by the self same entertainment, or perhaps vice versa. It's a shit business, either way, and Sheff knows it better than most. And yes, although it's slightly hidden by context Blue Tulip is related to the Mike Read stalker of yore.

    - Going through the record industry wringer can of course wait for some people, as there's fun to be had first. None of Those Dancing Days have yet hit their twenties, and the energy and pop bounce of In Our Space Hero Suits could only come from ones so unexhausted and inexhaustible. Yet, and this is why in another place we've compared it to the sainted At The Club, there's a melancholy and foreboding in a lot of the lyrics that neatly underscores the youthful enthusiasm. They play to their strengths too, Lisa Pyk Wirstrom's organ, Cissi Efraimsson's runaway drums and Linnea Jonsson's sultrily soulful croon lifting as they go. Bit of a shame they couldn't have got this ready for the summer, but that's that industry for you. Why the eponymous track is track eleven is a different query altogether.

    - We were convinced, especially after their two stunning performances at End Of The Road and our resultant picking up a promo from amid a massive rush/crush after the second, that Ottawa's The Acorn would have the jewels of the UK music press laid out in front of them by the time Glory Hope Mountain came around, but no dice. Surprising, as alongside its Polaris Prize nomination and release on Bella Union it's got its own backstory - it's a concept album of sorts based on the memories and origins of frontman Rolf Klausener's Honduran mother Gloria Esperanza Montoya (the title is a rough translation). No Rehearsing My Choir this, though, as the story takes in domestic abuse, poverty, natural disasters and general destruction of normality. What this translates to is a wide range from cracked low-key beauty to Broken Social Scene-esque group indie anthem theatrics, plus a Honduran folk influence and a dollop of that extra percussive thing that's so now in north America, all conveyed with story sensitivity and intelligence. What we must hope for is exceptional word of mouth.

    - Stylistically, Eugene McGuinness's self titled debut, following last year's acclaimed Early Learnings Of... mini-album, is all over the place, from ragged indie to swooning balladry. Do you remember when Badly Drawn Boy was on the way up and the way he'd rapidly pick up and discard ideas but held onto the melodic ideals? McGuinness's approach is something like that, and the stuff that sticks to the wall is mightily impressive.

    - There's always been something studied about Saint Etienne, not that that's really a bad thing, but you're always aware that Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs have this huge frame of reference that coalesces with their love of allegedly disposable pop. We like to imagine that if we were musically gifted we'd end up like them. London Conversations is at least their third best of compilation, this one apparently capital thematically linked despite not including London Belongs To Me, which seems a bit of an oversight. Still, that just leaves a decade and a half of dance culture/retro kitsch inspired greatness, all the hits sounding as essential and as somehow unique to Saint Etienne as they ever did (except possibly He's On The Phone, but piano house never did age well), and we're assured by those who know better that the inclusion of rarity Lover Plays The Bass is as much of a carrot as you want.

    - Plenty of singles too. Paper Planes is already in the charts, Fleet Foxes' He Doesn’t Know Why and Wild Beasts' Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants just hints to go out and get the very fine albums, so let's drag you towards two 7"s: Copy Haho's twisted Pavementish melodies have been getting the right people hot under the right collars and You Are My Coal Mine is to us their standout moment to date, while the ever cussed Comet Gain, who have a ten year retrospective out in a couple of weeks, chase their mod-Dexys-Godard-Forster dreams down a rabbit hole again on Love Without Lies.

    COMING SOON: And so, eventually, inexorably, we turn to We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. The reason why it was such a surprise was they'd never even hinted at any entirely new songs in their previous live sets. Obviously, now we know they have them they have to play them, so here's Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1 just about retaining its structure amid the murky mix of Berlin and being appended with My Year In Lists.

    MYSPACE INVADERS: There's definitely something going on around Leeds at the moment as they're churning new bands at a decent rate. Following Sky Larkin, Grammatics, Dinosaur Pile-Up, from nearby Napoleon IIIrd and the recently relocated Her Name Is Calla as the latest to get people, by which we don't just mean us for once, excited are i concur (lower case obligatory). "We enjoy good music, especially the american indie stuff" it says on their Myspace, which pretty much does our job for us, but you'll need to know which bits, to which we suggest The National's sense of anxiousness/nervous tension, Interpol's brooding am-dram, Broken Social Scene's expansiveness and touches of Explosions In The Sky's glacial post-rock and Johnny Marr circling guitar lines. Never mind potential, they sound like they're almost there already.

    VISUAL AID: Christmas starts earlier every year. Especially here, as this is a Top Of The Pops Christmas Special (part two, no less) from Boxing Day 1967, available in seven individually fascinating parts:
    One: It's Jimmy Saville, Pete Murray and Alan Freeman, and we join them recording a trailer with none of the three really knowing what's going on except for Jim's odd palmistry riff. When we start properly there's some Bee Gees ("a song that's going to be a standard") and a beach-based clip we've never seen before for I'm A Believer, alongside some sort of Star Bar-presaging talking heads business with some people you'll recognise and some you won't (Spencer Davis, Dave Clark)
    Two: Jimmy catches the light as one bloke completely misses a communal shout and someone else (we assume) boos the Rolling Stones' name. Let's Spend The Night Together, Mick in a game show jacket and Brian Jones on piano in a rakish hat, is their contribution, followed by Long John Baldry.
    Three: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich! See, they did really exist, and in their world percussion took a time signature floating role. If you've never heard Zabadak, have a check of this as it's a remarkable piece. As is the following, Lulu with the curlers fresh out and performing the really rather great Love Loves To Love Love (a strange choice, given it reached number 32 in Britain), not least for its scorching guitar intro by popular sessioneer Jimmy Page.
    Four: Pete Murray is very formal, isn't he? There's a discussion of what happened to flower power before Scott Mackenzie, after which Freeman suggests we "think about the American groups" and stumbles right over Tamla-Motown before introducing dancers the Go-Jos and "all the Top Of The Poppers ready to do the whole bit" to the Supremes.
    Five: "The Go-Jos couldn't have any Christmas dinner yesterday as they had to dance like that today!" Cliff has "learnt to live with success", apparently. Murray seems obsessed with the idea of a "standard", although you can't say he's lying when he refers to Whiter Shade Of Pale as an example. Right at the end is an astoundingly nervous girl to the left of Freeman, although maybe if she hadn't worn that sparkly dress and beehive she wouldn't have stood out so much. Or stood just there, obviously.
    Six: All You Need Is Love. Nothing really needs adding there.
    Seven: And especially not by Saville. Note to Jim - next T-shirt size up. Engelbert Humperdinck finishes the live performances off with whatever the technical opposite of a bang is. There's just time for Alan Freeman to piss himself laughing at Jim's hair getting in a mess before a baffling section of footage of people standing around and messing about in clothing stores and then a full minute or more of the audience self-consciously shuffling before the world's least convincing can-can line breaks out.

    * We're fairly certain we've covered Eardrums Music before, but they really have come good in the last couple of weeks with the second in their series of free download albums, A Good Crop coming in one... two... three... FOUR! parts. Therein you'll find the likes of The Rosie Taylor Project, Darren Hanlon, Fanfarlo, The Kabeedies, Colin Clary, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Sambassadeur, Je Suis Animal, Left With Pictures, Dark Captain Light Captain, The Lodger, Roses Kings Castles (the drummer from Babyshambles - oh, woo), Kotki Dwa and that.

    * Say what you like about Foals, but they can choose a support act. Currently trailing them around the country are Wild Beasts, Dananananaykroyd - Calum and John in the crowd at an enormoroom? We'd like to see that - Maps & Atlases and Holy Fuck. The latter's label have pressed up some tour only 7"s of them and the headliners covering each other's songs, and then stuck them online for free, if in the format nobody understands, AIFF. Foals do a fine version of Super Inuit, Holy Fuck slow down Balloons with what seem to be sampled vocals from something else entirely.

    * Because we feel the nature of the competition in what should be a sharing blogosphere, and not just because we did so badly last year and messed up the registration process this time around, we didn't enter the BT DMA Blog awards for 2008. It struggled by without our filling a space in the eighties, though, and the full top 100 has been published for us to comb when UK blogger album of the year polling time comes round again (and oh, it will) An Oasis news source won, Mike Skinner makes his traditional appearance at 3 (no David Gilmour this year, though) and Fish, as in Marillion, has his Myspace at 7. I don't think he's quite understood. Our other outlet The Line Of Best Fit comes in at 18, six short of Drowned In Sound, while old friends The Daily Growl, Keep Hope Inside, Fucking Dance and Music Like Dirt all appear among the misplaced Myspaces and blogs that probably aren't British anyway. How did a defunct YouTube account get in at 66?

    * So what's the outcome of all this music blogging anyway? Canadian blogger Condemned to Rock 'N Roll wrote its MA paper on the subject, namely "Does NME even know what a music blog is?: The rhetoric and social meaning of MP3 blogs", including contributions from the likes of The Hype Machine, The Torture Garden, Song By Toad (and seeing a whole comments box reproduced takes us aback, not to mention to 'Ctrl+F' just in case - we're not), Chromewaves, Lost In Your Inbox, Culture Bully and Hits In The Car.

    * Oh yeah, and if you get some spare minutes go and read Future Of The Left's US tour diary on their Myspace blog, because it's very much of the required Falkous high standard.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    The Weekly Sweep

  • The Acorn - Crooked Legs [Myspace]
  • Broken Records - Lies [Myspace video]
  • Copy Haho - You Are My Coal Mine [Myspace]
  • Dananananaykroyd - Pink Sabbath [YouTube]
  • The Deirdres - Milk Is Politics [YouTube] (With our usual midas touch that's also seen STN-quoting-on-Myspace The Dirty Backbeats announce their split this week, Indietracks heroes and heroines the Deirdres played their last gig before a travelling-induced long hibernation this week, which this video for their nearly greatest moment was made to mark)
  • Elbow - The Bones Of You [YouTube]
  • Emmy The Great - We Almost Had A Baby [YouTube]
  • Eugene McGuinness - Moscow State Circus [YouTube]
  • Fleet Foxes – He Doesn’t Know Why [YouTube]
  • Gossamer Albatross - The Ground Will Take Us Down [Myspace]
  • Jeremy Warmsley - Dancing With The Enemy [YouTube]
  • Laura Marling - Night Terror [YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed [Myspace]
  • Lovvers - Human Hair [Myspace]
  • Noah & The Whale - Shape Of My Heart [YouTube]
  • Okkervil River - Calling And Not Calling My Ex [Myspace]
  • Sky Larkin - Fossil, I [YouTube]
  • Those Dancing Days - Duet Under Water [Myspace]
  • The Walkmen - In the New Year [YouTube]
  • Wild Beasts - Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants [YouTube]
  • Wednesday, October 08, 2008

    Absolute balance

    Of course, nobody ever listens to Virgin Radio out of choice, it's merely 'on' in offices and factories that think their Chasing Cars-all-day-every-day ethos is universal enough for everyone to feast in without actually being the pestilence of local commercial radio, so for anyone new to their advertising account you've got a right job on.

    Did we say Virgin? Oh, silly us. Since Branson's company was bought out of their stake in the station it's become Absolute Radio. The way they're advertising this is a) Christian O'Connell putting his name to a book about Being A Man as if it were still 1996 and b) some of the clumsiest, most hateful online advertising we've seen. Let's start, and frankly we could finish here, with the tagline - "DISCOVER REAL MUSIC". "Real music". The worst phrase and concept in the whole world. "Real music" is the phrase that spawned a million popists, the automatic assumption that X is greater than Y where X is Guitar Bands Who Really Mean It As Decreed By Paul Weller - Weller, it often escapes such people's notice, a huge conisseur of soul and rare groove, songs often written for purpose by third parties - and Y is But They Don't Even Write Their Own Songs! (oddly, a concept rarely applied to Sinatra or Presley) Interested in the new Oasis album? No doubt Absolute will have played the whole thing several times over by the end of this week.

    Then there's the "cheeky", "irreverent" (you can imagine those phrases in yellow highlighter on the flipchart) set-up lines:


    Yes, Vincent Cable. Notice 'girl bands' rather than 'girl groups', the latter being the Sugababes, the former being Bikini Kill. Somewhere in there is a truth spoken in out, as the demographical assumption with such "real music" lovers is that anything with a girl singing will bring them out in hives. Way to tell large swathes of potential listeners they're unwanted round here, by the way.


    Given the typical boy band fan is a fourteen year old girl we're guessing it's a school register, boy bands not noted for their instant attraction to paedophiles and sex offenders.


    Do they only know one girl pop outfit? Still, at least they're differentiating themselves from all those other stations still playing the Cheeky Girls nearly six years later.

    "NO WAY, BUBLE!"

    Well, that's Michael Parkinson taken care of.


    Now they're wishing death on innocent people, not least people who haven't had a top 40 single in eleven years. And we tell you what, those stations that endlessly play Richard Marx will get what's coming to them an' all. Incidentally, who'd like to see the TV advert? Suddenly Can I Touch You...There? looks like the soft option against heavy Hoosiers promotion. (The Hoosiers, of course, a so-called "real music" band whose facile marketing spend makes Blue look like Jandek)

    And beyond all that, they're really sharpening up the gimmick factor. It's been reported that the station is inviting listeners to sit in on their weekly playlist meetings, because god knows focus grouping has been so successful at carving out an individual approach for commercially funded radio. There's a new tagline, "discover new music" - we look forward to those Rolo Tomassi and Italo-disco sessions. Despite this, according to the Guardian, the station will "put an emphasis on personality DJs". Yeah, that's just what we need. A check of that playlist reveals that, well, you could have written it, although under those strict guidelines surely Duffy and the Ting Tings are more than borderline.

    The branding agency employed here previously worked on the faux-naivety and stupid target setting account of Innocent smoothies. It shows.