Friday, April 30, 2010

This much we know

With the benefit of five years' blogging, ten tips we'd like to pass on to anyone else who may want to start their own music resource:

Everyone starts somewhere
But too many people think it's easy enough. Grab some tracks off Hype Machine, write about how everyone is tipping them for the top and repeat. Never having had ambitions to be an mp3 blog, the fulcrum behind starting STN was "we know music; we want to share a love of music to people who might like us for being ahead of the game or on their thoughts wavelength; let's make this a virtual community of loveliness." Needless to say we turned out to be too individually minded for that, but five years ago there were very few UK based blogs, the market almost completely dominated by your Fluxblogs and Said The Gramophones. When blogs started being offered advance tracks it was like a revelation from the big men upstairs. Of course their conciliatory hand turned out to be a lead weighted boxing glove eventually, but around our own obsessions the language changed. And yeah, maybe quite a few of those reading this were led towards a certain band by our hyperventilating, otherwise all this has been even more pointless then we suspect it already is, but... well...

You're out of fashion
"Blog buzz band" has become a sneer, a signifier that this is just another in whatever genre Hipster Runoff made up for an injoke, another Brooklyn band with 'Bear' in their name, and you'd be wasting your time. Maybe the greater number of blogs, all seeking to be first and claim they were onto tomorrow's big thing at the outset like those stereotypical indie fans of yore who cared about "selling out", do coagulate around the same fixed points, but either there's a reason for that or it's something to carefully steer past chasing down your own ideas. We like to think we've paid only lip service to the feeding frenzy, and besides some of them we've never heard as there's never time. Accidentally, but also purposefully.

There's too much new music
Much as it sounds like the dying words of the desperate man, getting loads of free tracks isn't all its cracked up to be. It's when you're wading through another synthpop band who think they're the hipster Duran Duran when they're barely a fourth rate Belouis Some that you start to be fearful. But even so, following your heart and your leads will bear fruit even if you have to handle every poisonous berry on the vine first. Los Campesinos!, as mentioned the other day, came from a single unassuming post on a message board. The EP by our new favourite band of the year so far, Under Alien Skies, arrived in the inbox with no auxiliary fanfare. This sort of wonder is the reason you keep going, because it's the reason Peel kept going - in among all these wastrels you might just find the band of your life.

Bands will never become your friends
We could, were we in the mood, list all the people in bands we blather on about who now recognise us on sight. We could equally list those who don't have a clue who we are. The chances of the former following your every move are, with the greatest of respect, likely to be very slim. They're busy people with backstage riders to lead. We won't pretend there haven't been those we've turned to in a feature emergency and we don't doubt they aren't grateful that one bloke in a back room whose blog circles round the 140 hits a day mark is fighting the good fight for them, but they aren't an infinite resource of love.

It's not your key towards anything much
At the time of writing, Sweeping The Nation has got us guestlisted three times in five years. One of those we couldn't make and one we already had a ticket for. This might say more about our character and willingness to exchange dignity for cash, but we've never got a permanent writing gig on spec, having applied for the hell of it to those we do contribute to. Don't start dreaming of A&R positions, basically. Never even a DJ set.

The 'thousand fans' industry model applies in a slightly different way to blogging, and it's more difficult than you'd imagine to achieve
200 regular readers used to be known as the basic lower level of blog fame. Five years and several mentions on Largehearted Boy (and one in the Guardian Guide, which as far as we can tell isn't online any more) later, as stated, we're comfortably below that. You'd wonder why we bother, given the way we now know everyone who ever leaves a comment. We're masochists, basically, hoping someone will find us through a silly Google hit and be intrigued by what they find. Putting your name in stone in the music blogosphere isn't an automatic privilege.

It's infuriating even when it works
Bands take bad musical decisions. They do battle of the bands competitions when you have first hand proof they're capable of so much more if only they'd believe those quotes. They just don't understand? Really, they're not supposed to.

The language of music reviewing is severely limited on both sides
Discussed this many times before, but as a side effect let it be known that the worst reviews aren't necessarily the most negative. It's what we call the "I think this is good because it is exciting" school of writing. Throw as many adjectives at Word as possible and you'll have your 300 words, stripped of all feeling or apparent love of your subject.

It's a very quick way to a very slow nervous breakdown
When you reach a certain level, the obligation to write something new every day or thereabouts is overwhelming, even when there is nothing left to cover that you haven't already splurged out of your mind onto the blog, or Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever. Couple that with the amount of music still to hear, present, future and past, and various ideas that formulate for the future even thought you know they'll fall slowly apart in time and you'd need the patience of Job.

After all that, the moment of clarity is worth the effort
Because you're still reading. Five more years!

Birthday presents VII

Concluding our series of exclusive covers - you may have seen a video for this on Indietracks blog but the mp3 hasn't been made available before now, so here's MJ Hibbett (who's playing our Indietracks warm-up on July 22nd, full details here) covering Allo Darlin's excellent recent single:

MJ Hibbett - Dreaming

And as a bonus, Hibbett does Sinatra:

MJ Hibbett - Fly Me To The Moon

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The posting service

Well, that's five years up and gone. How to reduce the content, pith and carry of 1,942 posts into, say, a top twenty of all time?

Like this.

Songs To Learn And Sing
The first of many abortive group-based projects was inspired by Garry Mulholland's unmissable This Is Uncool, his rating of the 500 greatest singles since 1976 to publication. (A book, incidentally, for which we curate a Spotify playlist, currently 452 strong) The pitch was entirely to pick a song that people may not know but should and then explain why, and some of the responses were genuinely fascinating and occasionally telling. Among its 42 responses were pieces by Gareth and Tom Campesinos! (who respectively chose the shortest and longest in the whole selection), Jeremy Warmsley, Emmy The Great (who wrote about Noah And The Whale long before you'd heard of them, or even we, given that she'd forgotten to tell us what they were called at first), Andrew Ferris of Jetplane Landing, Pagan Wanderer Lu, Kieron Gillen, producer Gareth Parton, celebrated gaming journalist Stuart Campbell and a phalanx of bloggers and readers. And you know, this might be the most fun thing we've ever done. Maybe we should try it again sometime... two years since the last go in June, after all...

Noughties By Nature
Much the same as the above, right down to having to finish before time, but snappier, allowing people to write more than one and this criteria being songs released during the 00s. A whole host of readers, friends and other joined the fun, with special condonement for Wichita's Mark Bowen, Maybeshewill's John Helps, BBC Chart Blog's Fraser McAlpine, Paul Hawkins, Penny Broadhurst, Ace Bushy Striptease's Simon Lawson, Odd Box Recordings head Trev McCabe, Jack from Alco-Pop!, celebrated Stylus alumni Dom Passantino and TV Cream's TJ Worthington.

The Nation Favourites: Johnny Foreigner
We've never been much good at interviews, as anyone spying on us the night we spent three hours trying to think of two questions to go in the middle of a chat with a briefly successful post-punk band only for their people never to respond to our request will attest. That's why we started The Music That Made..., no guarantee to spend hours wording and rewording the queries only to still annoy the artist on some level. This one was good, though, and it was due to be the lead feature in the one-off paper version we were going to flog at some event or other only for various things not to happen and the idea to be permanently shelved. Yeah, one of our projects went up the swannee early, who'd have thought. Discounting local supports JoFo are the band we've seen live most often since STN started, and it's reciprocal to the extent that Junior knew who we were before we'd ever spoken to him. Alexei also did a curated Covermount, which was to be the first in a series of our favourites playlisting their favourites. Was to be.

An Illustrated Guide To... Belle & Sebastian
The Primer: Joe Meek
It takes a hell of a lot of time to collate everything, this one involving buying stuff off eBay, but the Illustrated Guides to bands and the Primers for scenes and general movers and shakers are two of our most personally rewarding occasional features. The Wire Illustrated Guide was commended by Colin Newman.

What have we done? Another year over (2005)
What's another year? (2006)
A year of living dangerously (2007)
My year in lists (2008)
The ever lengthening New Year's Eve overviews, all written in one sitting after a lot of research groundwork. We didn't do 2009 as it seemed to be a year in which nothing at all happened, as covered at the start of 2008. They chart a static but fitful period in music history and are worth your while.

Another quality item
See, we sweat buckets and slave over those sorts of lengthy things to the point of nervous exhaustion, and yet the sort of post that gets all the credit and comments is a big list of stuff from an old radio show. *sigh*

This is pop?
There's a course of mid-90s nostalgia rushing through STN at times, and this is a good example of that. David McNamee called it '1997', we just settled for a sweep of the sort of specific indie cult band level the internet's wider expanse ironically helped kill off.

Accent on the negative
In which we gainfully sidestep the Mockney issue to take on what it says about what they choose to write songs about. Pull quote: "Colin Meloy has never been a Soviet Cold War agent". How true.

All my people right here right now
Be Here Now briefly looked like it was about to be reconsidered. Listening to the monolith with minute by minute comments put paid to that idea.

STN sometimes feels like it runs off meta-posting, here thinking over what sort of writing you want from a music blog and what range of lexicography is available.

We mean it, man
Why do people hold authenticity up as the great bastion? The argument's changed in this winter of secret band membership, but the central point holds.

Discourse 2000
Another fine idea from last year that withered on the vine of wider apathy. A reader compiled list of the alternative best albums of the decade just passed, six entered in total.

The hype machine
Round about here the BBC Sound Of poll became a self-fulfilling prophecy, something to build a year's business strategy around. Whatever happened to just having new music?

Fleet(wood)? Fox's
Included because we frankly can't believe the 1989 Brit Awards is still up in full on YouTube. "Wind away!"

A summer of rage
No, not the Christmas of Rage, but a pondering on whether we get the festival bills we deserve. Curiously apposite the day after Summer Sundae added Diana Vickers. An updated appendix on this next week.

Hold on to your genre
Shroomadelica, Thamesbeat and The Scene With No Name will live forever. No they won't.

Birthday presents VI

In follow-up to yesterday's offering from Of Mice And Mental Arithmetic, Tom from the band fires up his Vom Vorton solo project for a version of a track from Hefner's last album, 2001's Dead Media, dedicated to the fourth man on the moon.

Vom Vorton - Alan Bean

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Birthday presents V

Formed from the ashes of the much admired Deirdres and Lardpony, Of Mice And Mental Arithmetic are an instrument swapping delight of expansive indiepop thrills. They've delved admirably deep too, for a track from Mew's Denmark-only second album from 2000, Half The World Is Watching Me, and one of the few tracks on it not re-recorded for their international breakthrough Frengers.

Of Mice And Mental Arithemtic - Mica

And alongside that, Sophie from OMAMA passed on this cover. We don't know a lot about this person, except that he may be connected to Derby's piratical wonders Seas Of Mirth, but we know it takes some cojones to strip Animal Collective back this far.

Major Kid Sun - Peacebone

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Golden year

So you like the retro charts, and we know this due to surveyance. A retro chart from five years ago, surely, then? This is the world this blog were born into:

1 Tony Christie Ft Peter Kay - (Is This The Way To) Amarillo
2 Elvis Presley - Way Down
3 Bodyrockers - I Like The Way
4 Will Smith - Switch
5 Razorlight - Somewhere Else
6 Ciara Ft. Missy Elliott - 1, 2 Step
7 Nine Inch Nails - The Hand That Feeds
8 Caesars - Jerk It Out
9 Mario - Let Me Love You
10 50 Cent - Candy Shop

Nine Inch Nails? Really? Don't remember that. And that Elvis track was part of a sequential reissue of all his UK number ones which threatened to boil over for the first four months of the year or so. Anyway, even for us five years isn't enough chart-based nostalgia, so let's pick an interesting chart from this week. Say, that officially issued on 30th April 1988:

40 All About Eve - Every Angel
Deemed goth at the time, and best remembered for the Top Of The Pops miming disaster (the follow-up, indeed), but listening to this again, doesn't it sound like more like a prototype for Belly?

39 Star Turn On 45 (Pints) - Pump Up The Bitter
You might well ask.

38 T'Pau - Sex Talk (Live)
A very Eighties concept, a live version of something that hadn't previously been a hit becoming a single. In fact, live singles have died off altogether now, unless you really want to count the Brits mixes.

37 Def Leppard - Armageddon It
They'd doubtless been waiting years to come up with a song to fit that title.

36 The Housemartins - There Is Always Something There To Remind Me
Their last single, and not a cover. Now Heaton's off on his own and The New Beautiful South are dragging on maybe it's time the Housemartins were given their proper due.

35 The Adventures - Broken Land
Irish band who had been big hypes a couple of years earlier and in this had Radio 1's most played song of 1988, none of which lifted it beyond number 20 or gave them a second hit.

34 Deacon Blue - When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)
"I am the girl from Deacon Blue/Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo"

33 The Christians - Born Again
Shades-sporting harmonic smooth soul brothers-and-cousin with New Wave background, currently trading with only one of the three Christian brothers. Alright, one of them's dead, but it's still a dereliction of nominature duty.

32 The Mission - Beyond The Pale
Interesting chart times, these. I Should Be So Lucky had only this week left us, while Somewhere In My Heart was on a slow climb eventually taking it to number 3. Prefab Sprout's poisoned chalice The King Of Rock 'N' Roll was waiting to pounce at 49, REM's Finest Worksong became their biggest hit to date at 50 (Orange Crush in June 1989 finally took them over the precipice, megaphone, Simon Potter link and all), and someone having their biggest hit of all at 80 were flag bearers of the extraordinary the Cardiacs, with Is This The Life. At 94, meanwhile, we find the alarming Clarence Carter And Gary Coleman's Strokin'/Watch Where You Stroke. Despite the title namecheck connection, though, this isn't Gary Coleman of Willis sense-questioning fame but a briefly lauded bluesman.

31 Aswad - Don't Turn Around
Former number one from one of the many attempts at a UK summer of reggae.

30 Narada - Divine Emotions

29 Joyce Sims - Walk Away

28 Luther Vandross - I Gave It Up (When I Fell In Love)

27 Sinitta - Cross My Broken Heart
More famous now, or at least a year or two ago, than she has been for twenty years. This revivalism surely has its limits.

26 The Primitives - Out Of Reach
Reformed, currently touring, playing Indietracks. Latterly down as a one hit wonder, but every single seemed to be on Wogan at the time.

25 Eighth Wonder - I'm Not Scared
Patsy Kensit's band, in a Scarlet Division rather than She & Him sense, and their Pet Shop Boys written and produced not actually sole hit despite what everyone thinks (Cross My Heart made number 13). Surprisingly breathy.

24 Rob Base And DJ E-Z Rock - It Takes Two
Early hip hop gold, not to mention most famed source of the "Yeah! Woo!" sample that cast its shadow over half the chart by 1992.

23 Brenda Russell - Piano In The Dark
How could you tell where middle C is?

22 Glen Goldsmith - Dreaming
We suspect he wrote his Wiki page himself, or at least his manager did. Although we'd have left off the bit about fronting a Kool & the Gang tribute band.

21 Tiffany - Could've Been
To the malls!

20 Bros - Drop The Boy
The video played at the end of the 1989 Brits when it underran because, well, because the whole show was screwed up, but more precisely because they lost a special video message from Michael Jackson and there were only so many reprises Randy Newman could have done. Muergghhh!

19 Taylor Dayne - Prove Your Love
18 Jellybean Featuring Adele Bertei - Just A Mirage
The year of Hi-NRG.

17 Patrick Swayze Featuring Wendy Fraser - She's Like The Wind
Possibly chasing the Bruce Willis dollar from the previous year, a full eight months after Dirty Dancing, on which it features, was released.

16 Will Downing - A Love Supreme

15 Pat and Mick - Let's All Chant
Remember them doing this on the last The Roxy, which seemed an abuse of privileges given Pat Sharp was hosting it. The other was fellow Capital DJ Mick Brown, not that us in the provinces knew who the hell he was.

14 James Brown - The Payback Mix (Part One)
Essentially a JB back catalogue cut and paste by an uncredited Coldcut, loosely based around also-ran track The Payback.

13 Jermaine Stewart - Get Lucky

12 Fairground Attraction - Perfect
A song to drift down a canal under umbrellas to. Chief musical Attraction Mark E Nevin - and yes, we hope the use of the middle initial was a deliberate nod - went on to write with Morrissey.

11 Pebbles - Girlfriend
Post-Debbie Gibson dance-pop from the woman who went on to found and manage TLC.

10 Fleetwood Mac - Everywhere
From Tango In The Night, the first time the band had had consistent singles chart success since the late 60s and their biggest seller bar Rumours. Lindsay Buckingham, of course, chose this moment to leave.

9 Michael Jackson With The Jackson 5 - I Want You Back '88
Not that mid-Bad campaign labels were keen to get any MJ on the shelves.

8 George Michael - One More Try

7 Climie Fisher - Love Changes (Everything)
"In the spring of 1995 Climie did an interview for Mixed Aggregate magazine, in which he criticised his ex-partner for not giving him the credit he felt he deserved during their days of chart stardom."

6 Natalie Cole - Pink Cadillac
In 1988 you could get away with promoting an artist as the offspring of someone famous, no questions asked. It's actually a movement-as-sex metaphor song by Springsteen, which puts a different take on Cole's candy coloured version.

5 Bananarama - I Want You Back
From the SAW (thus inferior) years, their first single with Jacquie O'Sullivan, who even now they're a Keren/Sara duo probably qualifies as 'the new one'. Did they really start out singing backing vocals for The Monochrome Set?

4 Hazell Dean - Who's Leaving Who
More hi-NRG, more SAW, and we challenge anyone to come up with anything more interesting.

3 Danny Wilson - Mary's Prayer
We know all too well there was nobody called Danny Wilson in the band, it's the law (named after a Sinatra film, in fact) Released about several hundred times before becoming a hit, drivetime AOPop never seemed so shiftless, although our thoughts are more taken by The Second Summer Of Love, their 1989 reaction against both rave and acid rain.

2 Pet Shop Boys - Heart
Fourth and last number one for Neil'n'Chris (written for Hazell Dean, actually), consistent givers of great interview and pop theorists on a Morley scale. Not a great by their scale, though.

1 S'Express - Theme From S'Express
We were still getting used to the modern language of dance music, with only Steve 'Silk' Hurley and MARRS going atop before Mark Moore stepped in with his own sampledelica, introducing acid house to the equation. Moore's cohort Pascal Gabriel had previously helped out on Bomb The Bass' Beat Dis, making him some sort of uncrowned king of this sort of thing. To prove it's a long shift when you don't do the press, he co-wrote and produced three tracks on Marina and the Diamonds' album. Anyway, it's still an exciting record and proof that, despite the Avalanches and Dan Deacon, sampling was much more inventive before the 1991 copyright test case. And yes, they could look awkward miming on keytars and Rolands in boxes with the best of them.

Birthday presents IV

We've written about Detox Cute & The Beauty Junkies before - "their idea of pure pop, which Cowell would never understand, and with fragments in view of Helen Love, Saint Etienne and the Pet Shop Boys, not to mention the founding days of synth pop... lovely, loving melody and melancholy." Their alter ego Paisley & Charlie take that latter bit as its starting point, much like Saint Etienne if Bob and Pete had taken Stephen Duffy in his various guises as their starting point. They're on an Indietracks train come July, and here they 'do' Au Revoir Simone.

Paisley & Charlie - The Lucky One

Monday, April 26, 2010

In memoriam

Not everybody gets it right all the time. A couple of days ago we considered the first time we wrote about bands we came to love and write about so often it borders on the self-parodic, or maybe self-defeating. But along the way we've come across plenty of diamonds in the rough who don't quite fit in, praised them to great heights and then watched the rest of the world, as we see it, fail to catch up and the band in question disappear, dissolve or just fade into the background. For maybe one last time - a couple of them are still together, after all - let us dredge those back up and not issue a mea culpa as much as harangue everyone else for their neglect. And down at the bottom of this post, something to remember them by.

In many ways, this may have been the most so-near-yet-so-far of all. We can't say we were first to them, they'd already had a page of the NME by the time we first featured them, describing their sound as "yet more clever-clever post-post-punk, but with a wise head on young shoulders", but the Sevenoaks outfit were one of the first bands we found through demos who progressed through to being signed (to Transgressive, then Columbia) and onto an album. We have their first single on cassette - yeah, we know - and once slightly scared Max Cooke (who we later interviewed) by mouthing along to their jerky World War-themed calling card Passchendaele at a Sunday night gig promoting their first major label release attended by eighteen people. Seeing them at Truck 2006 in the midst of a proper storm we commented "here is one of the few new British guitar bands worth bothering about. The reason? They want you to think, they want you to dance, you feel compelled to go with them. Post-punk danceable drums, disco bass, DFA sequencers, properly used keyboards, vocal interplay and a lyrical approach at once personal and sociological in its own way adds up to something special and they're giving it everything to an equally appreciative hardy group of people who recognise that there's something special happening." Inevitably the major label didn't know what to do with them, threw out a couple of singles which got a little MTV2 play and nothing else, then sent album Control into the chasm. They were summarily dropped and split while working towards a second, more electronic album, playing their last gig last Glastonbury.

Picture Books In Winter
A good wave of bands came from Cardiff in 2007-08, from Los Campesinos! (one of them was in a side project of Neil's) and the briefly based there Wave Pictures to this group, who we first wrote about three months after they'd formed. They had in fairness made an immediate splash, eclectic without being all over the shop for the sake of it, committed but inscrutably smart and somehow both becalmed and melodramatic at the same time. It was something that caused us to hyperventilate that they were "the type of band that in the face of One Night Only promo campaigns make you feel so much better about the actual prospects for thoughtful, exciting new music in 2008." They played Glastonbury in 2008, The Fly called them the local standout of that year's Swn festival and they got on an ITV Wales show, but at the time of writing after a couple of self-released singles they haven't gigged for five months (and hadn't played for four months before that, blaming geographical issues) and have gone uncommonly quiet. Well, we're still rooting for them.

Also from Cardiff they're somewhat more active than PBiW - in fact they have a gig on Thursday at Le Pub in Newport and then on 4th May at Cardiff Barfly supporting The Neat - but as we're still waiting for them to follow up their single of March 2008 they're clearly taking their own sweet time over things. 'Sweet' is about the most misleading word that could be used about them, given... well, let's quote our own writeup from the programme for Smalltown America's This Ain't No Picnic weekender. "Try and work this one out. A duo who tell - screech, actually - of bloodlusting bullfighters, errant greengrocers, private detectives, drunks, vengeful gods and Bullseye to the accompaniment of grinding guitar, thumping drum machine and the odd cornet. It's actually far better than even that sounds. Compared to everyone from Whitehouse to Suicide to the Fall to Big Black, DC Gates and Graf's black hearted not to mention black humoured screes and uber-jaundiced take on the character study have earned them a sizeable local cult following, but really a unique outfit such as this demand the wider audience to sit up and listen, maybe just before cowering. And if nothing else, let's put it this way: Future Of The Left and Los Campesinos! love them, The Automatic hate them. Which side are you on?"

Gossamer Albatross
No, we do actually get mildly embarrassed when bands put our untutored words on their Myspace as solemn testimonials. Especially if they read like this: "Instantly make a mockery of their peers' London press-powered Pull In Emergency/Bombay Bicycle Club teen scene's slavish post-Liberstrokesparty sound by claiming influence from Neutral Milk Hotel, The Magnetic Fields and Final Fantasy, and having the ability to back it up." Alright, maybe a touch hyperbolic, but the Hereford teenagers' dual violin, cello and guitar setup (later adding a boringly normal rhythm section) plus Lewis Gordon's expressive voice made them a baroque treasure, one that played End Of The Road and worked with Jeremy Warmsley. "If we’re any judges the next eighteen months will see them take off" our This Ain't No Picnic adjudication finished. Eighteen months later while they've not said as much, they've not gigged for nearly a year and the two violinists are in Talons.

Friends Of The Bride
Fair to assume from the references to 'were' in their biog that this SW20 collective have gone the way of all flesh. Partly the fault of ex-Theaudience songwriter and general man about town Billy Reeves, they melded unashamed swinging 1960s Brit-beat styling and south London indie with influences from soul, garage rock, Rat Pack, cabaret and Bobby Grindrod's jazz vocal style. Nobody knew what to quite make of it, so they invented terms like 'nu-croon' and 'swingdie' to cover it (neither our fault, we should add). They put out two singles on home of the 2006 hitmakers Young & Lost Club, one on a Brainlove split EP and then vanished, save for Grindrod's club night. Pop Fact: when we asked Bobby for his favourite album of 2008, he admitted he didn't think he'd heard anything released that year.

The Dirty Backbeats
Because we see no shame in promoting our local scene, which is particularly rosy at the moment, and also because, well, they were ace. Like Friends Of The Bride, the Dirty Backbeats could have stepped right out of the 1960s. Just a completely different bit. Their psychedelic garage-blues assault, equal parts Beefheart and Sonics, was complemented by a sweatily magnetic live show which saw Grant Decker twitch, gurn, tear across stages and up bits of framework. Mark Lamarr was a fan, long after they'd acted as their support the Cribs namechecked them the next time they played Leicester some time later, and they quoted us on their press release with a credit for Metro. Never quite understood that. Just as rumour had it they were about to be signed they split up at the end of 2008.

Proton Proton
While Andy Falkous was out of action post-Mclusky pre-FOTL, this Brooklyn trio seemed to both fill the gap and deliberately not fit in at all. With the razor edge of Shellac and the often danceable sonic adventurism of Les Savy Fav ("hard-edged guitars you can dance to. If you're a contortionist"), not to mention two adapted basses in place of guitars, when we discovered them in April 2006 a few months after their second EP release it seemed a worldwide following was a matter of time away. Of course, they never released anything else. There is an appendix, though: 'gass' player Aron Sanchez is now in Buke & Gass, who at the start of May will be supporting The National in London.

Johnny Boy
Unique among these ten in that they had an actual tangible hit that people still love to this day. That was of course You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve, an extraordinary piece of Phil Spector-recalling anti-commoditisation produced by James Dean Bradfield and talked up by Johnny Marr and Mick Jones. Then they got dropped. Three years on their album emerged, still defined by that one moment of magic but also encompassing a kaleidoscope of samples, riffs, effects, Lolly Hayes' ice in veins vocals and a whole heap of genre jumping, Dave Eringa production piling on and the sort of lyrical commodification that would have made Malcolm McLaren proud. Since then, nothing. Wiki: "(You Are...) was recently revealed to be the journalist and writer Kieron Gillen's favourite song". OF COURSE IT IS.

Johnny Boy - You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve on

Wake The President
Only just split*, as mentioned in a couple of recent posts, but what a band they made while together. We literally first stumbled upon them at the first Indietracks in 2007, knowing nothing about them proving all the better to take in their take on Orange Juice jangle and darkly debauched Glasgow lowlife tales with added twin brother bickering. In retrospect it seemed like they had nowhere to go in that format but down having issued such a completely immediately formed album, or as we put it "it may not be an album hell bent on reinventing guitar pop as we know it, but in the hands of operators skilled at the comparatively simple things, and with a fresh way to tell personal tales, it proves after everything is said and done, it can still sound enthralling and intriguing."

(* News just in: no they haven't, the brothers have got WTP together in a new formation)

Even more recently, two weeks ago officially, we lost Anathallo. The Michigan octet came in the wake of the Sufjan-led American indie-folk brigade with an expansive sound involving much percussion wrapped around delicately shifting arrangements and a lot of odd instrumentation. We really thought, especially after interviewing member Andrew Dost and having a lot of people thank us for the tip - we suspect only LC! match up to it on that score - their taking off was only a matter of time, but they couldn't get a UK release for the album Floating World and their blog buzz crashed on the rocks of a terrible Pitchfork review. The second album, Canopy Glow, made it this far but wasn't as good, maybe as Dost had left. Still, as with these all... what might have been.

A zip file containing a track from all ten of these can be downloaded from here.

Birthday presents III

Something slightly different today, perhaps to reflect our ongoing dips into the well offbeat. The Attery Squash are Ricardo Autobahn and Rev. Diva Schematic. One of them was in the Cuban Boys, of Peel/hamster bothering fame. They're best known for the single Devo Was Right About Everything, which Devo later voluntarily remixed, and its spinoff viral hit Charlie Brooker Is Right About Everything. Half of them now take MIA on a more earthly electronic bent.

Rev. Diva Schematic - Paper Planes

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Birthday presents II

Second in our selection of exclusive covers is someone whose new album we appraised just the other day, the creeping dread of Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences. Here he and they tackle another overly literate writer, one that we've been banging on about for a couple of years now but who managed to gain his widest sweep of press popularity this year through his long defunct band Nosferatu D2, Ben Parker AKA Superman Revenge Squad. Bonus points, like Jimmy Saville used to suggest, for anyone who can name the source of the spoken bit at the start.

Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences - The Angriest Dog In The World

Saturday, April 24, 2010

First sight

One of our aims has always been to find, broadcast and heighten general awareness of new music through these basic but workable text interfaces. This is not done out of the stereotypical blogger's search for and elevation of The New above The Existing, but as we see it a tacit acceptance that bands are often at their most exciting just as they emerge from chrysalis and catching them early and watching them grow and develop their own sense of space and time is a wonderful thing. We've done a lot of this in the last five years, and while our hit rate has been the erring side of erratic (although you have to say pointing out a group called Kapowski, only for them to post a goodbye blog two days later, takes some beating), some of our praise recipients either having gone onto big things or been followed by us to the point of stalkerdom. This, then, is high time to pause and look back at those we jumped onto early, and what we initially made of them.

Sky Larkin
"Surely next cab off the New Yorkshire rank, sounding like the Breeders playing at being Bloc Party." (23/1/06)
We were a bit stinting on over-detailing in those days. Original bassist Lindsay was still in the band at this point and they'd issued a couple of demo EPs, our being led onto them by the support of early UK music blog hero to most Mike Smith, trading as Take Your Medicine and later Nothing But Green Lights, that unfortunately dormant for about a year. Ver Larkin have been one of our constants since, people we know are aware of our presence, and we're gladdened to hear a second album is in the early stages of mixing. For further reading, this local scene site interview from four months earlier, accompanied by a picture in which Katie looks a good decade older than she does now. God, New Yorkshire.

Jeremy Warmsley
"(His) laptop singer-songwriter thrown through a plate glass window style is winning him friends all the time, and a hookup with England's newest hitmakers Transgressive Records can't hinder. 5 Verses pitches its tent somewhere between the distinct fields of Jarvis Cocker, early solo Brian Eno and Four Tet's more accessible moments." (27/3/06)
Easy to forget J-Wo's first stirrings were more beats-based than much of what followed, although it certainly never totally lost him. He later became our first interview subject, then we think the first musician who knew us by blog name upon meeting at Truck one time, then put us in the acknowledgements list for How We Became and played our second ever promotion. And no, we still didn't know he was half of Summer Camp before the reveal. Says here this is his 126th namecheck on the blog. His own promotional materials probably don't mention him that often.

Lucky Soul
"blessed with a frontwoman in Ali Howard who sounds like Stina Nordenstam in the Supremes. We can't help thinking Bob Stanley is in hog heaven with all these bands emerging." (22/5/06)
Doesn't sound that much like Stina Nordenstam. We'd been tipped off repeatedly about Lucky Soul by a couple of people for some time before actually getting round to hearing them, and by the time it did things had swung that sort of thing's way far enough for us to really get it at first count. They're playing a handful of gigs in the next couple of months, including the enticingly named Basingstoke Live.

Los Campesinos!
"A septet who seem to be carrying on a small scale Cardiff obsession this section is accidentally developing, have already been around pretty much the entire mp3 blogosphere twice since Nothing But Green Lights picked up on them about a week ago, making them perhaps the fastest Internet sensation in history. Still, what's a little late bandwagon jumping between friends, because they're a band many will grow to adore. In the space of first track You! Me! Dancing! we noted down the names of Architecture In Helsinki, My Latest Novel, Ooberman, Thunderbirds Are Now!, Heavenly, Broken Social Scene, Orange Juice, Khaya and Les Incompetents. If that's not for you the other three tracks up, which are all downloadable, play in the fields of twisted guitar pop, early Delgados hidden lo-fi grandeur and the thought that they'd be fantastic live. So, maybe not for the Bolt-Thrower fans, but perfect for this summery feel that's come over us all of late." (10/7/06)
This particular story starts on 29th June 2006 when a bloke called Tom sent out a couple of messages about his band and their having uploaded some songs to the Myspace page they started a few months earlier (Y!M!D!, Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks, It Started With A Mixx and Death To Los Campesinos!, or as it was prosaically known at the time Song 1). Nothing But Green Lights actually jumped on them a day later (see Ellen in the comments) and reported more than 300 downloads of Y!M!D! within four days, spreading so quickly around the blogosphere that they were in Hype Machine's top five by 4th July, hence that latecomer qualifier. We don't know where some of those comparisons came from, although some were clearly more cock on than others (Thunderbirds Are Now! are a Michigan post-punk band who were blog next big things for about three days; Khaya were a Scottish duo who didn't so much as gain a cult following although Peel liked them) The rest you know. Gareth has one of our badges. He's probably lost it.

Emmy The Great
"Thoughtful largely acoustic singer-songwriter business, what they used to call anti-folk but now we're going to glibly say is our own Martha Wainwright." (19/7/06)
"Tipped for something significant, although the mainstream audience for interlocking guitars, disco drums, the odd cheap keyboard rhythm and excitable vocals could be difficult to find. Must be quite something to see, though." (19/7/06)
More truth in those, apart from the confident suggestion Foals would never cross over, then we'd ever admit to. These come from the same post, a foolhardy attempt to preview every band playing Truck Festival in 2006, a reflection of nothing more than how excited we were by it, and despite that we still managed to create a good 45 minute gap in our memories that coincided with Battles' set in the Barn. We saw Emmy, partly backed by Warmsley (and indeed unwittingly blanked her during the aforementioned meeting with him, something we've never truly made up for even when she told us she'd shown her mum our review of that set); we've conversely never managed to catch Foals, despite having a ticket for one of their gigs (illness) and being at two Trucks they've played. The second time, the famed 2007 September version, they were moved from the Trailer Park to the Barn at short notice due to overcrowding and we didn't find out until told the following day by, um, Katie from Sky Larkin.

The Wombats
"If anything's held the Liverpool scene back over the years it's the way it always seems to eventually come back to meat and potatoes guitar pop. You'd think all local musical efforts were overshadowed by one enormous band, perhaps from the 60s, or something. The Wombats could well fall into the same trap but expertly avoid it through harmonic guitars, crisp janglepop and trace elements of Lee Mavers' retro vision. You'll be hearing a lot more of them if they're not careful." (18/9/06)
They weren't careful. In either sense. We're telling you, those first couple of singles had something.

"A bloody stupid name for a band. We hope they appreciate our considered input. The Glaswegian double-drummer sextet call their throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-collapses melange of Fugazi, Jetplane Landing, Pavement, post-rock and Maximo Park on steroids 'fight pop'. We file it under noisily melodic goodness." (2/10/06)
Maybe "melodic" was a bit strong. "(They) have almost certainly listened to a lot of songs by The Thermals" reckons one commenter of our acquaintance. Giles Bailey was still singer at this point, Calum Gunn taking the drum-singer-loon position John Bailie Jnr would later make his own, with James Hamilton, now of Errors, alongside him at the back.

Pagan Wanderer Lu
"Omnichords, then. A few years ago Sean Dickson from the High Llamas was much given to touting his around as if it was this wonderous thing he'd discovered, now every second sonic adventurer has one as a matter of course. It's what you do with it that matters, and what Pagan Wanderer Lu does with his, and the rest of his one man band electronic boxes, very much matters. Wryly seething lyrics are married to lo-fi keyboards that smash up pop melodies and attempt to wire them back together in a skewiff fashion, reminding at times of the long lost Experimental Pop Band or at least making sense of the claimed influences from Pavement, Aphex Twin, the Fiery Furnaces and Magnetic Fields. Also, Our New Hospital Sucks is surely pop's first song about PFIs." (30/10/06)

Au Revoir Simone
"Are, inevitably, from Brooklyn. We say inevitable because the female trio sound like they've been piped directly from a faux-boho practice space, all singing and playing keyboards. Musically we're hearing influences from the Magnetic Fields' twee days, a blissed-out Ladytron, Cocteau Twins' ethereal synths and great swathes of warm Germanic electronica. Apparently they can be quite disco, but as there's only two tracks uploaded we'll have to take their word for it. The kings in waiting of Moshi Moshi Records have picked this up for the UK and they're currently hanging onto We Are Scientists' coattails around the country." (6/11/06)

The Indelicates
"There are two things everyone knows about (yes, score yet another Weekender selection down for the cultural hub of East Sussex) Brighton's The Indelicates: the title of the song about overeager press interest in a certain "rock bad boy", and the band female half (actually they're a five-piece, but only two of them do press and take the Indelicate surname so let's press on) Julia was a founder member of. Far more entertaining is the detail that male 'half' Simon has written and staged a musical about the book of Job. And more entertaining still is their music, kamikaze cabaret indiepop like the Dresden Dolls if they were svengali'd by Luke Haines and Jim Reid. Fans of Johnny Boy, Art Brut and great British curmudgeonliness, step this way." (15/1/07)
Course, Simon and Julia moved to Lewes just so they wouldn't be called a 'Brighton band'. We don't think we quite got the measure of their lyrical nous back then, although the Luke Haines and Art Brut comparisons stand up to facts.

Those Dancing Days
"Maybe there's a secret pop factory in Sweden that churns out bands who take lo-fi C86 twee as a starting point for modernist adventuring. Stockholm's latest buzz band are five teenage girls called Those Dancing Days, who bring to the fray the very essence of organ led '1997' (see posts passim) filtered through Northern Soul, Sarah Records and Blondie. They're all downloadable too - try Hitten, essentially Camera Obscura demoing Pull Shapes, or the eponymous track, which is reminiscent of Sophie Ellis-Bextor teaming up with the Duloks and the Stranglers' Dave Greenfield." (7/5/07)
All gone quiet over there after a good long period in the US last year, although they're playing Belle & Sebastian's ATP.

4 Or 5 Magicians
"There's been far too much girly Scandinavian twee around here recently, which is all very well in its own pop way but occasionally you feel the direct need to hear a band whose top line of Top Friends includes Pavement, Sonic Youth and Guided By Voices and can justify such in sound. And as we know from this section's past, if they're from Brighton they're virtually a shoo-in already. Hence 4 Or 5 Magicians, whose leader Dan Ormsby clearly knows his Slanted And Enchanted and Alien Lanes as well as Sebadoh, Built To Spill and Bearsuit. There's a single pencilled in for July and a bucketload of potential beyond, if probably not a better opening line than Forever On The Edge's "I wasted my youth playing cricket"." (14/5/07)

Wild Beasts
"One band that do come across better in this setting than records suggest are Wild Beasts, clearly of a post-punk revival bent but taking the limber, fractured funk of Orange Juice and their Postcard Records bretheren and adding touches of soul and avant-jazz rhythms and, most pertinently, Hayden Thorpe's extraordinary vocal style, akin to Billy Mackenzie in the process of his voice breaking. Former single Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants (right) gets people properly moving." (14/8/07)
Summer Sundae review, when they played in a less than quarter full tent because everyone else was watching Maps. Clearly a stirring set given they've returned to the festival for both of the last two years.

Slow Club
"...we find a more successful translation of joy-filled wistful whimsy in the scrappy acoustic pop of Slow Club - Charles on guitar, Rebecca standing up behind an occasionally employed drumkit, both singing and harmonising on their off-kilter stories and city shanties. Nobody dances despite Charles' invitation, although it's fairly hard not to be moved when they're at full pelt, but it's just what the occasion and the ambience required." (28/9/07)
Part of an End Of The Road Festival review, and we recall setting out especially to see them so are surprised this was the first actual mention of them. Also, we remember absolutely nothing of this set.

Johnny Foreigner
"Their debut EP Arcs Across The City may not be released until November 26th but Johnny Foreigner have been quietly stirring no small amount of interest in certain circles. Taking Chicago post-hardcore as their starting point, the Birmingham trio rocket through Sonic Youth, Pavement, Q And Not U and Prolapse and come out sounding like the most urgent math-scuzz possible. Keep a very close eye out." (10/10/07)

"Many moons ago it was Song, By Toad (see sidebar) that put us onto the great Broken Records, and they've recently repeated the trick with another set of emotionally charged Edinburgh types. Meursault, who've just released an album called Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues, available pretty much only through the usual PayPal link on their Myspace. Theirs is a possibly unique when deployed in this way combination of lo-fi but defiant electronica, modern folky standbys of accordions and ukeleles, and Neil Pennycook’s cracked howl at the world, a fearsome and fearful lyrical content to match. It comes across like Band Of Horses taking on the Postal Service only to do it wrongly, on purpose. Where does it fit in? Well, apart from the odd wade into Jonquil territory, it doesn't, and that's all you really want." (29/9/08)

Birthday presents I

As mentioned, some people we've talked up and others who are at least aware of STN have recorded covers for us of the sort of people we've been talking about over the years, and over the next week/until they run out we'll be running them as exclusive downloads on here.

Internet Forever's noise-pop nuggets have put them high on our watch lists for quite a while now, ever since we curiously described them as "a Los Campesinos! affected by the credit crunch". Indeed LC! invited them into their curated day at Swn last year and they've toured with Johnny Foreigner; they play the 100 Club with Frankie & The Heartstrings on 3rd May. As you'll doubtless know the band are essentially a conglomeration of three bedroom projects, not least Craig Nunn's four-track alter ego Heartbeeps, which we wrote about five months before we tackled the band. For our purposes, he made this cover of a single by Brainlove's 8-bit batterer Mat Riviere (original here:

Heartbeeps - FYH

And as a bonus, a previously unreleased Internet Forever remix by someone we've been going on about for even longer, the wonky genius of Cardiff's Andy Regan, Pagan Wanderer Lu.

Internet Forever vs Pagan Wanderer Lu - Break Bones (chipped bones remix by PWL)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Leader debate

And as it's a special occasion, why not use the magic of Formspring and ask us anything about the blog, music or general chit-chat you like, within reason?

Sweeping The Nation Is 5: the party starts

On April 29th 2005 a very special and important event occurred, the likes of which the affected community never envisaged. Syria completed its withdrawal from the Lebanon, ending 29 years of occupation. Meanwhile - on a Friday, for some reason - Sweeping The Nation crept its way into the then stagnant UK music blog pool and proceeded to fail to shake it up, or else we'd have had more than 144 average visitors a day last week. Still, you take your celebratory moments where you can, so for the next week we'll be commemorating five years of this shit with lists, reflections, gubbins and downloads.

For the latter, we asked some of our favourite people to record special cover versions to give away gratis. They were all busy, so we grabbed some people where we could and corralled them into it instead, and they'll be going up throughout the week, or, as unsurprisingly seems to be the case as if just to carry on the grand STN tradition of commissioned group exercises, until they run out early.

In the meantime, heed that initial mission statement from all those years ago:

Actually, I'm not sure you can have a mission statement for a music blog. It's writing. About music. In a satirical style. With comment on the music news of the day, mentions of new and old songs, live and recorded reviews, audience participation, plus here a singles chart review on Sunday evenings*. There will be little beating around the bushes, but probably quite a bit of prevarication. We know our place. This isn't one of those blogs that pretends it likes Uniting Nations. However, The Paddingtons can equally bugger off. One thing this isn't is an mp3 blog.

As we say: this week, we're posting exclusive mp3s.

* This was based on the UK charts Usenet group and we thought would be a unique slanted angle on pop but turned out quite dull, both to read and write, so we quietly dropped it very quickly.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Enjoy the Trips

Although from Montreal, Trips And Falls are going through Edinburgh's Song By Toad (two mp3s via that link as well as purchase details), who seem like they're on the verge of a big year even if the gig-goers of Leicester don't know it yet (they handle Meursault, and one day we'll tell you how much we lost on that magnificent night when we put them on with Stairs To Korea. Anyway, Trips And Falls)

It's hard to put a handle on what it is they do - their chief listed influences are Sweep the Leg Johnny, The Smiths, Sonic Youth, Calexico and Charles Mingus, none of which are much help. The band they immediately remind us of, one we've written about a fair bit on here, are Mitchell Museum, taking apart pop melodies, slowing them down, generally screwing around with them, then soldering them back into place to see what might happen. This does make it sound we're fixating on the Scottish connection but there's elements of Ballboy in here too, the twinkling, misleadingly easygoing music backing Jacob Romero's forlorn tales of humanity going not so much wrong as just odd. "Creepy", the press release prefers, and the dense production detail ensures there's plenty going on in the background. And in the foreground on You Should Really Get Yours, which sounds like Stump played backwards.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Always something new

"Slightly ahead of the zeitgeist", eh? Will have to keep living up to that, then. Here's six new bands that have crossed our path like counter-melodic urban foxes of homogenous indie rock.

Dog Is Dead
It's not entirely surprising that these Nottingham under-18s - under-18's! - have a quote from Charlie Waller of the Rumble Strips on their page, as they too have a big enunciating vocalist and staccato brass. This isn't a Young Soul Rebels rip, though, but something more slippery, taking in three part harmonies, sax solos, hints of Vampire Weekend, odd math/post-punk drop-ins (Hot Club de Paris get quoted too) and an assured tightness. They're playing Dot To Dot at the end of May and Summer Sundae in August, and thereafter the world.

Anarchist Cookbook
Birmingham - it's the new, we dunno, Cardiff or Edinburgh or Newcastle or whichever city it was that only we last noticed a load of interesting new bands, some with vague connections, coming out of. They invoke the increasingly checked name of Elle Milano, we're thinking echoes of #ladsontour Copy Haho to the power of restless math-punk dynamics. Kev BSM was bemoaning this tag recently, but if anyone is a 'Big Scary Monsters band' it's these. Their 'sounds like' description is by Miles Lookimakemusic. SCENE AS FUCK.

The Martial Arts
From Glasgow, and we think we're right in saying they have representation in The Second Hand Marching Band (leader Paul Kelly is also in the mildly better known The Plimptons), this reminds us of our other great failed genre, Neo-New Wave. You can imagine they were mod suits and skinny ties, and you can imagine them playing a part in the East Coast power-pop scene of the early 80s that in a roundabout way birthed REM. Throw in hints of the beat boom, glorious summer melodies, Big Star and the Violent Femmes, and you've got the Knack could have been, or something.

Beaks Of Eagles
Recommended to us by old new friend Dunc Autumn Store, new signings to the increasingly worth watching Odd Box, the Bristol based duo are but six months old but already have full aptitude at a very Americana/West Coast low key harmonically structured pop a la earlier Death Cab or Shins.

Slushy Guts
Lower than lo-fi bloke with acoustic spilling his, erm, guts out. Seems to be a quick way of getting mentioned round here. Like the recently lauded Benjamin Shaw there's tape noise and the odd drum machine acting as backing, against which Stephen Presumablyhasasurnamebuthe'snotabouttotellusit plays spidery guitar and darkly draws his intimate thoughts a la Lou Barlow's four-track recordings, Daniel Johnston if you really must. He plays Brainlove Festival at Brixton Windmill over the spring bank holiday weekend.

Sunset Song
As mentioned a handful of posts ago Wake The President have proved our anti-Midas touch is still in working order by splitting into halves. This half is the rhythm section, Mark Corrigan and Scott Sieczkowski, the jangle largely excised in favour of a folkier infused sound with echoes of the homespun dark charms of My Latest Novel and Frightened Rabbit. A little Phantom Band in their less electroKraut moments too. Scottish, basically, with plenty of promise. As we type they've had 397 profile views. With your help they can make it 500.

Six more to follow in due course.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Silences golden

Not everyone will have the inclination towards Apologies To The Enlightenment, the fourth album by Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences, and not just because it's 75 minutes long averaging nearly five and a half minutes per song. If you know sometime anti-folk hero Hawkins at all you'll know his voice is the one thing that everyone remarks on, a Marmite-worthy sometimes atonal rasp that here takes on positively demonic tones. Whereas previous releases have hinted at warped pub rock like Stiff might have once released (in fact, the first time we wrote about the band we envisaged them on the first Stiff tour), while there's definite hints in various songs of Ian Dury (Every Word I Say To You Today Will Be A Lie) and Madness (Seven Inches Tall) here they're mostly cast as a psychedelic nightmare of acidic guitars and unsourceable noises (The Beasts In The Upstairs Bedroom) or oddly melodic pop alchemists (I'm In Love With A Hospital Receptionist), all encircling Hawkins' ranting dark poetry, emotively angry and preacher-worthy committed to his own causes, alongside the odd lyrically derailed pop moment. Impressively eclectic and visionary, it's an album that doesn't so much grow on you as vice versa. The disturbingly bouncy Monkey Serum is downloadable from Work, according to Hawkins, has already started on the follow-up, under the working title Fuckwit Bonanza. Before that, the small matter of a Christmas Number One Project.

This might be NSFW.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Indelicates' sounds of thunder

The showy elephant in the die-hard muso room in all discussion of The Indelicates' Songs For Swinging Lovers is that it inaugurates their Corporate Records strategy with a pay-what-you-want scheme. This is the sort of new sales policy that tends to take up as much as half of reviews of any albums such sold, so for sake of the music we'll let you read up about it. Although you'd need the sales link first.

Let's talk about the Indelicates instead, because they need writing about, and written about is something that people manage well enough on their behalf. As we said when reviewing American Demo, they tend to cause bloggers to write in a high minded, intrinsically wordy way that rarely gets brought out for other people's music. It's as if people are trying to catch up. Fearsomely, fearlessly intelligent, musically opaque, bound to critical study and poetic darkness, proudly anti-mainstream mores and outlets, they are, it's fair to say, the most unlikely recipient of more than one page of tagged news articles on Digital Spy. The Indelicates are the whole package, every declaration, artwork and special edition of the album designed to set them apart.American Demo, in capsule, was the Auteurs, late on when Luke Haines really did have no kind words for those around him

in the firmament, produced by Jim Steinman. Songs For Swinging Lovers is more genre unspecific, from huge guitar anthems to Weill cabaret - Julia has mentioned that these songs were written more with musical cabaret in mind. Lyrically, though, it still focuses on much the same critical targets as the first album - personal politics, media, feminism, the music industry, class, irony, hypocrisy, doomed love. There'll always be that distinct lack of pandering to the greater commercial good or pulling punches, evident straight from the opening Europe, not only their attempt to write a song about every great land mass in the world (that's what Simon said at our gig, and you trust him, don't you?) but laden with heavy irony in its salutes to high society. Flesh is actively vicious underneath a lilting piano-led melody. It might be hard to believe from a song which opens "hey girls, let's see if we can bring out the rapists in the new man", but while a blood sister to Our Daughters Will Never Be Free in its degredation of modern ideas of female empowerment it's not as directly angry, more pitifully baleful before it gets to "take a knife to me, scar my snatch into a smile/strip me out, dissect me, milk my tears and tap my bile... beauty isn’t truth, it’s just youth, it’s adaptive and it’s elastic", ending in the world's most ironic torch song ballad ending. Ill returns to the cult of the damaged, crowing "You know you’re too clever to be mentally ill/You'll never fashion your damaged soul/Because you’re too clever to lose control". Roses shows they can do a proper murder ballad, and obviously they do it a lot more elegantly, graphically and with an undercurrent of disgust than most. (There's also a tremendous clanging bridge which includes the contents of actual abandoned tapes they found in the ex-East German radio station they recorded the album in) Be Afraid Of Your Parents is properly Threepenny Opera, Simon in full rolled-r's ravishing mode railing against the language of the far right "charming men in uniform". We Love You Tania follows Unity Mitford into the world of tribute songs to antiheroes, here Patty Hearst (and that sample photo will look familiar to anyone who saw their recent tour poster).

Only the Indelicates could nowadays write a song like Savages, another you and I against the world as we saw it song both celebrating their status outside the modern mainstream and simultaneously questioning whether there really is justification for it if that is the case, or Jerusalem, a jaunty almost Britpoppian evisceration on the youth scene that celebrates itself that pointedly, and far more timely then they could have expected, remarks on "how it seems rebellious to vote Conservative now", seeming to answer Blake's rhetorical question firmly in the negative.

Anthem For Doomed Youth goes on to centralise the ire, locating what happens when there's nothing worth fighting against and hence nothing worth fighting for. Maybe that's why the Indelicates exist and thrive, as something to hook on to in the lack of anything your Facebook group starting brethren are willing to get directly behind. If it's social satire in a vacuum, it's very well aimed as something to say for the few that will end up listening (no sales budget beyond word of mouth, remember), romantic and (more often than not) dark humouredly bileful at the same time, laying out their personal charter in a realist's world.

Their (Simon's, to be exact) long talked about next project, as mentioned in the last non-special track? David Koresh Superstar. Of course.

While you're over at Corporate Records, why not give a little time, possibly followed by money, to Indelicates full band member Lily Rae's Oh No...? She's a bolshy 19 year old from Brixton whose father fronted a band which featured Dave Allen (Gang Of Four, Shriekback), which tells you nothing about what she sounds like but fills out a sentence. What she sounds like is Kirsty Maccoll circa They Don't Know - right down to the Stiff Records new wave influence - with a heavy grudge and a good working knowledge of Morrissey, and this is all a very good thing. If she gets big, someone will compare her to Lily Allen. Someone will very shortly afterwards have to die. This is the Myspace, and this is thirty seconds of a song in that quite nice Corporate Records player.

Harvey's rare bit

If we have any hope for this week, it's that this clip goes viral.

Playing a couple of gigs over the last year or so, PJ Harvey has been debuting a new song called Let England Shake. Over a looped sample of The Four Lads' original of Istanbul Not Constantinople it involves Polly thrashing away at an autoharp not entirely in standard tuning with cryptic but fairly politicised lyrics atop.

Where, do you think, would Polly choose to give this fairly eccentric song by her recent standard its first wider airing?

This morning's The Andrew Marr Show. Obviously. (Interviewed her, too) Which would be bizarre enough, were it not that watching intently on with Marr was Gordon Brown.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

We're not an mp3 blog any more, remember

On the other hand, some people send you mp3s you can't resist from posting. One such electronic missive came from Erik Sandberg, partly to bring news that the STN favourites he fronted, Wake The President, have joined the ever lengthening list of bands we went fully into battle for only to meet a wall of general apathy and watch die. Erik and brother Bjorn have though started a new band and are recording with Paul Savage with a view to a release next year.

Meanwhile the twins' Say Dirty label is releasing a split 7". On one side are The Sexual Objects, the appealingly falling apart current project of Fire Engines/Win/Nectarine No.9 frontman Davy Henderson. On the other, a Glasgow band who did a Marc Riley session on Tuesday, formed by a member of mid-90s post-riot grrl screamers Lung Leg, earning a bit of localised credit for their jangling, full bodied assault on new wave-y (circa Altered Images) guitar pop. And yeah, this is the Myspace.

Peter Parker - Pretty Living

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ure in a bad way

More chartage. It got overshadowed by the Joy Division Oven Gloves farrago, but there was a rival and fantastically petty effort to get Ultravox's Vienna to somehow right twenty-nine years' wrong and send it to number one for some reason. As you may know it wasn't entirely successful, but it gives us an opportunity to dip into the relevant top 40 of 21st February 1981:

40 Adam & The Ants - Cartrouble
39 Adam & The Ants - Kings Of The Wild Frontier
We're right on the edge of the zenith of that odd period when a man singing about flamboyancy and imagined social takeover over Burundi derived drums and big glam guitars was the biggest thing in teen pop. As Miranda Sawyer once observed, two decades later the same age group was being pitched Westlife. The latter was the new single and set to become the start of a name making run of top 3 singles, the former a pleasingly jagged/jangly early single reissued by the old label, as old labels used to do, from before Talcy Malcy (RIP) stole most of the Ants for Bow Wow Wow.

38 Kelly Marie - Hot Love
No strutting sailors, no disco boo-boo, no future.

37 Barry Manilow - I Made It Through The Rain
Yeah. Plenty of passing interest just outside the 40, not least the Teardrop Explodes' unlickable Reward at 41 and the prosaically titled Four From Toyah EP at 42. The Freshies are at 54, and as Dale Winton says that was as high as they ever got, with I'm In Love With The Girl On A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk, notable for two reasons, a) last we knew it was the longest unbracketed song title ever to chart, and b) singer Chris Sievey created a character, played by himself, as the band's biggest fan and went on to concentrate on being that character full time on stage and record. You know he is. He really is.

Holly Willoughby included, how many people in that studio do you think genuinely know who he is?

36 Barbara Jones - Just When I Needed You Most
A few names here have headed down the collective memory plughole. Jones was a one small hit wonder reggae singer.

35 Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime
And a few haven't. None of it was his, apparently.

34 Beggar And Co - Somebody (Help Me Out)
"Beggar and Co (also written Beggar & Co) are a UK male vocal/instrumental group" Wikipedia, seemingly via the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles. They were a funk brass section who worked with Spandau Ballet. 15 weeks on chart.

33 Gillan - Mutually Assured Destruction
Ian Gillan. Meanwhile at 55 was an entry for Star by Kiki Dee, which as we all know went on to be the theme to Bob Says Opportunity Knocks. Rosser & Davies, we hardly knew ye.

32 The Boomtown Rats - The Elephant's Graveyard (Guilty)
Never one for politicising subtlety, Bob. As we would find out.

31 The Look - I Am The Beat
Mod revival also rans most famous for the locked groove at the end of this record which repeated the last word until you had to get up and take it off, or the stylus wore out.

30 Diana Ross - It's My Turn
Kids In America made its top 75 debut this week, at 62. Now that Gethin Jones has the Holland & Barrett constituency and gardening has moved away from prime time Kim Wilde is forever touring continental Europe and in 2006 released an album mostly of poor reworkings of her old songs, bar a circle-squaring recording of Kids In America with Charlotte Hatherley that was, future biographers take note, the first mp3 we ever uploaded for the blog.

29 The Gap Band - Burn Rubber On Me
Duran Duran's Planet Earth debuted too, at 67. Meanwhile, the funk.

28 Passions - I'm In Love With A German Film Star
Echoey, hairspray-friendly one hit wonder covered to no great effect by Sam Taylor-Wood a couple of years ago, because nobody said the Pet Shop Boys' radar was always perfect. Cicero, for example.

27 Heatwave - Gangsters Of The Groove

26 The Jam - That's Entertainment
Famously only on import, and an example of how compilers can get it so wrong when Snap! featured only a then-rare full band version that couldn't miss the point more.

25 Susan Fassbender - Twilight Cafe
Does anyone know her? The facts, such as they are, seem to get quite repetitive there.

24 Spandau Ballet - The Freeze
23 Freeez - Southern Freeez
Must have been something in the air. (Yeah, that works)

22 Adam & The Ants - Young Parisians
An even older song reissued by an even older label.

21 Roxy Music - Jealous Guy
New entry. Remember what had happened two months previously.

20 Cliff Richard - A Little In Love

19 Yarbrough & Peoples - Don't Stop The Music
Peoples! That really is a copout as far as naming your backing band goes.

18 Adam & The Ants - Antmusic
Don't worry, we've had a couple of generations since and ants treading on you has come no closer to realisation.

17 John Lennon - Imagine
No red wine round theirs.

16 XTC - Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me)
Andy Partridge's least favourite of anything he's recorded, and given how many volumes of Fuzzy Warbles he put out that's some claim.

15 Motorhead & Girlschool - St Valentine's Day Massacre EP
A lot of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal in the lower reaches, but a drop of the old stuff made it to the top five. We would write more, but we've just seen the sentence "The EP was recorded while Motörhead's drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor was recovering from a neck injury sustained playing "who can lift each other up the highest" with a large Irishman" and may be incapacitated in a very different way for some time.

14 Coast To Coast - (Do) The Hucklebuck
In the early 80, see, many were reviving the 50s.

13 Blondie - Rapture
Or making new stuff. Given nobody knew what rap was, Debbie could get away with rhyming like that then.

12 Visage - Fade To Grey
It's not an actual snake.

11 The Pretenders - Message Of Love

10 Slade - We'll Bring The House Down
First top ten single in five years, a period which it says here included a single called Sign O' The Times. "In Wolverhampton a hairy man died of a big disease with a little name..."

9 The Stray Cats - Rock This Town
No Stray Cat Strut, as longtime readers will know, but somehow cooler than, say, Matchbox.

8 Dire Straits - Romeo And Juliet
Lasts about three days, but gives us a chance to post something else Dire Straits related and brilliant in its own altruistic way. IATV's Peter Cook fronted punk-friendly music show Revolver gave ver Straits their TV debut with no warning as to what sort of music was to come. Down the front in the pit for Knopfler, now!

7 Madness - The Return Of The Los Palmas Seven
Dinner jazz oddity with one word lyric, printed in full in inside sleeve of Complete Madness compilation. Highly orchestrated TOTP appearance? But of course.

6 Fred Wedlock - The Oldest Swinger In Town
Last time we got to write about Keith Michell's Captain Beaky, now it's Fred Wedlock. The Music Magazine called us "slightly ahead of the zeitgeist", and we're repaying that one in spades. Bristol folkie Wedlock was in fact only 38 at the time, although if you count Madonna, Kylie and Steven Tyler as more gyrators it could still be true.

5 Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight
Paint pot, drowning, chocolate, you know all this by now.

4 Rainbow - I Surrender
Bigger than FM drivetime TV advertised compilation staple Since You've Been Gone, and somehow much more proof that everything's not AOR.

3 John Lennon - Woman
Knocked off the top, which is a fairly brutal way of the nation declaring that was enough mourning.

2 Ultravox - Vienna
Vic Reeves' version is of course the superior, given it junks all the lyrics bar the first line and chorus.

1 Joe Dolce Music Theatre - Shaddup You Face
Right, so Dolce was born in Ohio with Italian grandparents, moving to Melbourne in the late 70s, where he formed the Music Theatre as a touring musical production of folk, blues and general amusement. He applied for a grant to record it and was given enough for a test segment, for which he chose this. It got picked up by a local DJ, went national, then Polygram shoved it out to stop an in-character re-recording by Andrew Sachs. Can't help thinking that had that been the hit we wouldn't have looked so harshly on Brand and Ross. Perhaps knowing his audience, Dolce follow-ups included Pizza Pizza and You Toucha My Car I Breaka You Face. None of them charted.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Swing time

The Indelicates - a band completely impervious to proper STN-trade punning headlines.

Their new album Songs For Swinging Lovers has been released in the past few minutes through their own newly minted Corporate Records auspices under a post-In Rainbows (but with PayPal) pay what you like scheme. If you need to catch up on Simon and Julia (and the rest of them)'s evil genius, American Demo, our eleventh favourite album of 2008, can also be downloaded for a flat fiver. There's a whole other ethos to the Corporate Records idea laid out therein involving signing yourself up to the 'label', but you can go and take that in yourselves.

They're planning to make a video for every track on the album, starting with the demonic skiffle-Pogues of Sympathy For The Devil. Your monetary input could make back the expense on those CGI effects and specialist dance classes.

Try before you buy

We're trying to get away from just posting mp3s of stuff we write about, not for Digital Economy reasons but because it was never this blog's intentions and it's a very easy way of filling out a post when all else fails. But, in case you want further convincing about the last few records we've plugged:

Love Ends Disaster! - Killer Bombs

Lucky Soul - A Coming Of Age

The School - The One Who Left Me

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Let's hear it for the girls

Do you remember the Summer Of Spector? Well, no you don't, unless you recall all the minutiae and pointless order making of Sweeping The Nation history, and not even we do that. For what it's worth, Summer Of Spector was a title we gave to the summer of 2006, when a lot of our favourite records of the moment had deliberate hints of wall of sound production and girl group aesthetics. It was the summer of Camera Obscura's widescreen breakthrough Let's Get Out Of This Country, El Perro Del Mar dredging through heartbreak and melancholia in minor key romanticism based on huge dynamics and analogue-sounding production values and the Pipettes locating the molten spot between knowing kitsch nouveau (dress code, video based on Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls) and indie pop modernity. Meanwhile, although they wouldn't release their debut album until early the following year, a little band based in Greenwich with big plans was making a splash with 7" nuggets of kitchen sink melodrama. Lucky Soul looked the part, sounded the part on a self-financed budget and were taking the retro girl pop span of Dustys, Sandies and Ronnies and shoehorning into a modish (and mod-ish) pop frame.

Four years on Camera Obscura have taken huge steps to the precipice of wider acceptance, El Perro Del Mar is channelling Brian Wilson, the Pipettes are channelling Baccara and Lucky Soul... well, there's a tale. The self-financed The Great Unwanted, for all its critical acclaim, didn't become the expected sleeper sales hit even as those that came after them with much the same records to tout - Amy and Duffy and all points east - took the sound and made it easy money for major label A&Rs, nearly bringing the accidental irony to Andrew Laidlaw's declaration "We’re never going to be out of fashion, because we’ve never been in it". Meanwhile, Laidlaw ended up dossing in the band's rehearsal space. Still, such determination to prove their own ground in terms of pop melodies with a hint of Sixties pizzazz dragged through assorted stylistic nods and a great dollop of production gleam has led to A Coming Of Age, released April 19th. So confident are they that not only did they turn down a production offer from Tony Visconti, but it's a main bullet point in the press release.

Whether Visconti would have added much is moot - his most recent high profile work, the Manics' Lifeblood and Morrissey's Ringleader Of The Tormentors, could best be described as latter day discography filler - but having lived for so long with The Great Unwanted, our seventh favourite album of '07, which felt like its title, a me and occasionally you against the world clarion call, it can take time to get used to the glossier feel. The emotional troughs seem more obviously signposted, the interplay is more smoothed over and we're becoming overfed with jaunty melodies against downbeat words. It's not that difficult to do. Undeniably, however, it's an album designed as much for the dancefloor as the heart, more so than its predecessor. It's there with paper change in the two singles, the huge glam Stax and quadrillion hooks of Woah Billy! and the Smiths-in-Motown (and the Smiths themselves hinted at that a couple of times not as successfully as here) of White Russian Doll. Up In Flames is Wigan Casino dragged over some very rocky ground with clever strings and four to the floor stomp shrouding Ali Howard's bittersweet appeal. Following on from the earlier command of brittle but huge balladry, the title track and Could be I Don't Belong Anywhere pack a cinematic, grandstanding sway with Brian Wilson's favoured string section making Bond theme grandiose statements, the former in exactly three minutes.

What is new, at least to us outsiders, to the Lucky Soul palette is an autumnal sophistication which isn't so much post-modern pastiche as reshaping the influences that others might wear more openly. Howard's little young woman lost is pretty much spot on for this sort of thing, an audible shimmer even as what she brings to the lyrical darkness ("sentiments that make Leonard Cohen look like Miley Cyrus" says that same press release - now come on, you know that's not true) burrows into the core. While not everything comes off with her vocal style there's just as many moments where she seems born to vocalise, say, Love³, an approximation of Booker T & the MG's working the Grand Ol' Opry. That song and Upon Hilly Fields, a fine countrified vibrato on, yeah, heartache and regret with twanging guitar solo to go, suggest an interesting diversion from soul plan A. For now, though, it's clear this is no band restricting themselves to indie ambitions, which might wrongfoot with its renewed slickness at first but could ultimately never ride a bike through a supermarket swigging Diet Coke when it could be sitting with a Jack and Coke on the fire escape stairs of Studio 54.

Lucky Soul - Woah Billy! from Ruffa Lane on Vimeo.

They didn't cross our radar until the tail end of 2007, but by that summer of all our hearts The School were active if only as a Loves side project (Simon Love played with them for a while and makes the odd reappearance, not least as loose cannon utility member at Indietracks last year) Since then there's been an ever changing lineup, currently acting as an octet (and when you've seen all eight, two keyboards and all, fit onto Leicester Firebug's tiny stage as we did last month you've really seen teamwork in action), and their own debut, Loveless Unbeliever, has been on the way for what seems an age and still doesn't land, via Elefant, until 7th June. Their frontwoman and songwriter Liz Hunt is fascinatingly anti-archetype, relatively diffident on stage - she does have a keyboard to play, in fairness - but similarly blessed with an ability to spotweld hooks and harmonies that are at once timeless and modern sounding. Admittedly some of them sail close to being other people's - the lingua franca of the retrospective, Kirsty Maccoll's They Don't Know, is invoked at least twice - but the overall vibe is bulletproof in its fully admitted invocation of style, Ronettes by way of Heavenly, Camera Obscura were they the underachievers, a much better suggestion of a girl group than Stuart Murdoch ever came up with in that thing he did. Indie in the old form of the word used to be about this, where the sixties met the hairclipped and fanzined, coloured Sarah 7"s of airy female singers who believed in themselves with any air of apologia offset by the joy of the thing. Two tracks feature castanets prominently. Obviously joy isn't totally unconfined, there's more than a hint of the lovelorn and broken hearted self-pitying am-dram here too, but it's hard not to spend the 37 minutes swooning in reverie. It's guileless pop that insists on its own terms even when utilising someone else's.