Sunday 25 May 2008

Blow Up Records

Blow Up – we’ve all done our hip wee mod shoe shuffles down at Blow Up at some point in the club’s history. Be it at the (long gone) Laurel Tree in Camden when the place was clogged with members of Menswear and Spanish mods questioning me closely on the make of my scooter (er, the non-existent make). Or at the (also long gone, hmm, there’s a theme emerging here) Wag Club, grooving to the bands and clambering up and down the stairs. Or possibly even hanging out after a Saturday night gig in the stinky (literally - the place smells of toilet cleaner) old Metro. But, you know, Blow Up do records too! They’re a record label with all sorts of eclectic musics to choose from. Lets have a look, eh?

Baltic Fleet is a road movie of an album. Not a sun-dappled, rolling out along the blacktop dose of Americana, but something more European and cerebral. Written by keyboard player Paul Fleming whilst on tour with Echo and the Bunnymen, the album works beautifully as a series of sonic snapshots, moments snatched and captured amidst the flurry of life on the road. Almost entirely instrumental, it’s a collection of musical mood pieces that spin from thumping beats and harsh electronica (‘Double Door’, the Nordic drone-rave of ‘Reykjavik Promise’) to delicate flickers of sound eked out sparingly (the ruminative ripples in a pond of ‘Pebble Shore’). The tracks that do deal explicitly with the U.S. still sound European. The graceful ’48 Hour Drive (Boston)’ is soothing, speaking of grey dawns and foggy eyes, of endless miles being eaten up in a mesmerising blur. ‘To Chicago’ with its flashes of female vocals is other-worldly and drowsy and gorgeously Neu!-ish.

Opener ‘Baltic Intro’ is essentially a drum solo with wibbling, wooshing noises, trains rattling down tunnels and Will Sergeant’s guitar samples. Don’t get the fear though, as this is followed by ‘Black Lounge’s’ serious motorik pummelling, a delicious autobahn beat straps you into the song nice and snug, like a Krautrockin’ safety-belt and you’re away. There are all sorts of sonic textures to be tempted by - wooshy, beepy bits; fair helpings of echoy, shoegazey guitar strummage – the sumptuous, staring out to sea kind; portentous piano playing; luxuriant soundscapes to lose yourself to. This is 21st Century Kosmiche musik, a round the world trip you can take with your eyes closed.

Cosmic shenanigans of an entirely Other order come courtesy of The Bongolian (aka multi-instrumentalist Nasser Bouzida). From the title, you may be forgiven for thinking ‘A Psychedelic Trip to Outer Bongolia’ is nowt but a cheeseball goof-fest, possibly even a goofball cheese-fest – kitschy lounge doings of the sort made ‘popular’ for two seconds in the late nineties by the likes of Bob Downe. But, hurrah! that’s not what The Bongolian is about at all. This isn’t easy listening for ironic twatsters, this is galactically groovy space soul. There’s a lot of hard-core Hammond action, great swathes of funky organ twiddling demanding you immediately cut a rug. ‘Feel it’ is The Spencer Davies Group kicking it in tin-foil space-suits. ‘Rock Me’ is snotty sixties garage spun into orbit, stomping along on a dirty bass-line, then weirding out amongst the stars with some oddball whirry bleeping sounds. ‘The Horn’ switches pleasingly between a sweetly summery organ riff and sinuous 70s cop show funk. ‘Space Meter’ is a low-down, hip-swinging psychedelic astro groove that Primal Scream are wishing they thought of. ‘Paris Colonade’, sounds like a breezily sophisticated spin around the city and we’re promised Holly Golightly is somewhere on the track amongst the Gitane-tinged ‘la la la las’. ‘Marimba Down At The Hare’ contrasts elegant, almost Japanese sounding marimba playing with some slippery jazz piano.

All this, the album sleeve urges you to note, created in an entirely sample-free environment, with a spot of backwards guitar where needed - just like in the olden days when tricksy playing and a canny ear was all the eager sonic explorer had to hand. And a primed set of bongos, of course.

Mockingbird Wish Me Luck are yet more Swedes going pop! Orchestral pop with a wee nod to Belle and Sebastian in their stylings to be precise (check their record cover design).
Their album ‘Days Come and Go’ is chocka with rinky-dink tunes that fill out into sweet-hearted, expansive sing-alongs thanks to some nifty instrumentation. There’s mariachi brass expanding the songs into super wide screen sunset anthems, folkily baroque trills of flute, ice-cream tingles of glockenspiel... Mockingbird Wish Me Luck are an eight-piece band and they sound like it.

Centre-piece song ‘Days Come And Go’ packs all in all of the above and chucks in a massed choir of voices for good measure, ensuring that epic sweep is full-on. “Take me out tonight, take me somewhere where someone cares” they sing, lyrically echoing The Smiths on ‘Let’s Watch The Sunrise’, a catch-in-the-throat, banjo-plucking pop lament soothed smooth with brass and percussion. ‘Step In Concrete’ lilts along irresistibly, twinkling amongst Afro guitars, topped with a trumpet solo. ‘New Beginnings’ is made for doing an indie-pop quickstep too. ‘Summer Again’ winds up with a Camberwick Green music box whirr built from banjos and glockenspiel, toyshop pop. By the time ‘Days Come and Go’ has been and gone, you’ll be fully summer-shined. A pop album for picnic days and warm nights of dancing with all the windows open.

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