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.


Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Ah, yes Good Books. I went to see them around the time they just started out as well. Passchendaele was a real favourite of mine. A lost classic indeed.

fadedglamour said...

I wrote nice words about many of these acts too but I'd say the disappearance of Gossamer Albatross has been particularly sad. I don't think they'd reached their peak artistically or commercially but I guess it's all over. A real shame.

Oh and congratulations for five years in the blogging game. Sweeping The Nation has always been a joy to read.

- saamFG