Sunday, 20 January 2008

It Won't Be Long Now - The Brights (Bitterscene Records)

Are we having a Britpop revival now? Look at The Brights with their wee mod haircuts and cups of tea - bless their little RAF target socks. Remember when there were a few months where The Bluetones seemed like an exciting pop prospect? When they first popped up with ltd. ed. seven inches of 'Slight Return' on inky blue vinyl and played gleeful gigs with jangling, shimmering 60s-toned guitars? Well that's a bit what The Brights sound like here. There's also an Undertones warble to the vocals and a Johnny Marr twangle to the guitars, which can't be bad. 'It Won't Be Long Now' is quick-stepping modboy indie-pop with exactly the right amount of jangling top-spin. 'Wear Your Art On Your Sleeve' fizzes along briskly with sparkling lemonade guitars. Both tracks on this seven inch, released by esteemed 'indiependently minded' Chelmsford types Bitterscene, are gratifyingly fresh sounding, a record to shuck off your blankets and throw open your windows to. The Brights bring us Springtime several months early and do spinny little dances on Winter's grave.

(P.S. Look out for Brushfield Street in Spitalfields on the sleeve. I used to walk down there every day. Good job I don't have to anymore, 'cos my heart breaks every time I see what's been done to the place.)

Club 8 / The Would-Be-Goods / The School – 10 Jan 2008, The Luminaire

It’s the first gig of the year and dress me in a dufflecoat and serve me a Ribena, if Fortuna Pop! haven’t served up the indiest gig of the year as well. The popkids are out in force, queuing up the Lumi stairs alongside the obligatory smattering of Swedes who always turn up to cheer on their countrymen when there’s Scandi-pop in the air.

First up it's Liz Love, a radiant sunbeam of girl-pop charm dressed in a blossom yellow frock, leading her ramshackle gang The School. Despite first appearances, The School are not just another jangley-twee schmindie band, and though they could possibly do with some rather more vigorous rehearsals you can’t help but note the song-craft sensibility at work here. This is twirling baroque pop that’s been lavished with 60s girl-group stylings and cute, school-orchestra instrumentation – note the frowning concentration of the glockenspiel boy. ‘Valentine’ and ‘Let It Slip’ bop and shimmy along sweetly, daydreaming of Darlene Love and dansettes. ‘All I Wanna Do’ rolls in on a ‘Be My Baby’ beat (the best kind of beat), before disconcerting all and sundry with a weird ‘Eastenders’ aping keyboard line. I like The School’s songs best when they flirt with The Beach Boys’ teenage symphonies and The Zombies’ pop odysseys, when the violin adds a burling undertow and unexpected shivers, or when the guitar glides and slides lazily, most notably on the psychedelic storybook swirl of ‘Sunshine’. The band end with the incongruously Christmassy ‘Kiss Me In The Snow’, insisting that it’s a "New Year song". Whatever the weather, The School make me smile.

The Would-Be-Goods are badly served by the sound and by singer Jessica’s cold. There are specks and sparks of life amongst the rather drear rumble of songs going by, but the band’s wit and elegance is cotton-wooled. I stop paying attention and am lured by the Sounds XP chaps entertaining me with a vodka cranberry and moustachioed dance moves. One song makes me look up in interest like a pop-fuelled meercat. Unlikely as it seems, a thumping great glitterbeat and chunky guitar elbow their way into the room. A pity that the ignition fails to catch and the sound peters out into a bleat. Even the racing-green buzz of ‘Emmanuel Beart’ is a tad limp. A pity.

We’ve been wondering if Club 8 are going to be any good live. There are only two of them aren’t there? Will they use backing tracks or what? Happily, core Club 8-ers Karolina and Johan are joined by a band of fellow beautiful people (even the bloke with shaggy hair, vest and a flat cap looks cool – that’s how icily elegant Swedes are) – the line up swelled to three boys and three girls – pleasing symmetry and a nice surprise. No half measures with tapes here, and despite the still slightly dodgy sound Club 8 end up surpassing our expectations. Light from the glitterball shimmers off them as ‘Jesus Walk With Me’ shivers into the room. Karolina’s voice is a cool glass of water – fresh, simple, pure. The set is short and sweet, mixing new album tracks with old, the indie-pop kids twisting gently in the bittersweet breeze blown up by the drifting valium disco of ‘Whatever You Want’ and the brittle, delicate ‘Love In December’. The band ends with the gently grooving bongo-mongo driven ‘Heaven’ with Johan busting out some actual bongos and the song bursting into bloom all blossom bright for the chorus.

And for an encore we get Club 8’s lollopingly cheery hit of yore ‘Saturday Night Engine’ which generates what’s going to have to pass for a rock ‘n’ roll riot tonight with an out-break of enthusiastic audience wiggling and singing-along. Altogether now, "Hey! You ! Stop that singing cause the Club 8 is all there needs to be"

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Belated 2007 Round-up

Ah, just got time for a spot of self-indulgent looking back at 2007...

Tio Bitar - Dungen
Hey Venus! - Super Furry Animals
Take Time To Wonder In A Whirling World - Soft Hearted Scientists
New Magnetic Wonder - The Apples In Stereo
Strawberry Jam - Animal Collective
Night Falls Over Kortedala - Jens Lekman
Sarabeth Tucek - Sarabeth Tucek
Famous Problems - The Butterflies Of Love
Candylion - Gruff Rhys
Holy Mountain - Wooden Shjips

The Radio Dept / Great Lakes / I Was A King - Water Rats

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Koko

The Black Angels / Flowers Of Hell - Sonic Cathedral

The Butterflies Of Love - 100 Club

The Beep Seals / Congregation /The See See - The Spitz

Espers / Voice Of The Seven Woods - Dingwalls

The Apples In Stereo - Bush Hall

Circulus - The Museum of Garden History

The Hot Puppies / Chrome Hoof - Tapestry Goes West

Super Furry Animals - The Roundhouse / Royal Festival Hall


Dari Meya clothes - Owls! Cats! Toadstools! Yes!

Dr Stuarts teas - Especially Echinacea Flavour and Apple and Ginger flavour. And fab illustrations by Brett Ryder on the packets.

The End Of Mr Y - A new Scarlett Thomas book! With bewildering physics! And time travel.

Dressing like a Biba Robin Hood for two days - At Tapestry Goes West. Why can't I always carry a sword around? My nephew does.

Russell Brand on BBC Radio 2 - don't go out on Saturday nights no more.

Grapefruit Absolut - a delightfully refreshing way to enjoy neat vodka.


Sydney - Zillions of big old bats in the Botanic Gardens. Sailing into the harbour on the Manley Ferry - the skyline looking like a shiney comic book drawing. Going to a Dollyrocker Movement gig in the middle of Mardi Gras with chronic jetlag. Hoping to secretly live in our friends' pool-house forever.

New Zealand - Driving round the South Island - I am queen of the road (no one else on it). Seeing our lovely friends again - we miss them. Marvelling at glaciers - they're pale blue you know. Delicious breakfasts that you never get in England. Never wanting to come home.

Stockholm - Hermans veggie help-yourself restaurant - like being at a suburban '70s hippie party. Some excellent sleeps cocooned in the top bunk in a cabin on the Malardrottiningen hotelboat. Klubb Sockerdricka with The Sweptaways acapella, al fresco on a balmy Swedish summer evening. Pet Sounds record shop. And bar.

Limni Keriou, Zakynthos - Kittens are our friends! Free ouzo. Balancing on a lilo. Discovering the secret path over the mountain. Getting lost in an olive grove (again).

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Feel The Beat And Do It Anyway - Sparky's Magic Piano

I’m not quite sure where this record has come from, but I’m sure glad it’s here! What an unexpected pop jewel, winking coyly in the sunlight. This album is short and sweet, it’ll take up just 36.36 minutes of your time ladies and gentlemen, but that’s 36.36 minutes jolly well spent, especially if you’re in the market for some cute but not cloying, witty but not clever-clever, sassy electro-indie-pop. What you get are what could be deemed weally wather twee songs (vocalist Marion’s prime instrument here is a glockenspiel) if it weren’t for the fact that they’re beefed up with a cornucopia of bedroom boffin sounds. This is a whirligig of noise: deeply squidgy electronica, feather-light synths, plinking, twinkling, soary, squeezy, - sounds poured in and stirred round and round to create electro-pop wonders.

‘Like Falling In Lo*e’ opens the album with an esoteric fizzing and humming that makes it sound like all kinds of experimental shenanigans are about to commence, but no! Sparky’s Magic Piano shower us with ba ba bas, jangling and buzzing gloriously. This is indie-pop!

‘Mend’ cranks and huffs, rumbles, squeaks and fuzzes behind Marion and Oliver’s girl/boy harmonising – a pop factory run amock. ‘Coffee Song’ is Tender Trap put in the wash with The Projects – kitchen sink indie-girl pop pepped up with diminutive motorik beeps. ‘Something Somewhere’ is oddly reminiscent of Apples In Stereo, a busy, buzzy clockwork toy of a tune, although it sounds thoroughly English thanks to Marion’s icing sugar vocals. Her sweet voice sounds like the smell of Lush Candy Fluff powder.

‘Sparky’ and ‘You Like Her’ are acoustically strummed and unadorned proving that the band have the tunes to throw off their gleeful, bleep-full layers of sound and go sonically naked save for a strategically placed glockenspiel. The second half of the album sees Sparky’s Magic Piano coming over all wistful with a sweetly rueful run of songs. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a shy anthem-in-waiting, sighing and aching. ‘You Are The Star’ is a bit Trembling Blue Stars; slowly filling with brittle beats, ghostly merry-go-rounds twirling and rain splashing on shining streets. ‘Home Improvement’ has the wintery dreaminess of The Radio Dept with its delicious catch-in-the-voice sinking feeling.

We all know there’s nothing new under the big old Crayola-ed indie-pop sun, but ‘Feel The Beat And Do It Anyway’ is cheerily refreshing. An instantly endearing sunbeam.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

SFA Hurray! December 31 2007, Royal Festival Hall

What would be an enjoyable way to spend Neu Years Eve, hmm? How about with your favourite band in one of your favourite venues? And so it came to pass that we attended Super Furry Animals ‘Best New Years Eve Party…Ever’ at the Royal Festival Hall.

In 2007, SFA regained their rightful place as my tip-top-most favest band, thanks to their mighty pop odyssey ‘Hey Venus!’ and some fearsome live action at the Roundhouse. Tonight I am on my thirty-fourth Super Furry gig. I loves 'em.

And the Royal Festival Hall I also love; its optimistic ‘yay! we won the war and Britain be ace innit’ 1950s architecture and ‘we are the mods’ interior design. I love the idea that the ‘ball and net’ pattern for the carpet was completed by mistake when an apple was casually rested on the blueprints. Or the fact that when the RFH was refurbished last year the architects drew a little fox on their drawing up in the rafters ‘cos a family of foxes moved in during the renovation work (it’s true, I’ve seen the plans). I love the way I can roam around, up and down the stairs onto all the levels, gazing out the windows or leaning off the balconies marvelling at the (quite choppy and dangerous-looking) river and my city expanding enticingly in either direction. Don’t even get me started on the wonderousness of the main auditorium. Anyway, that's closed tonight, and the bands play downstairs in the more knees-up-friendly Ballroom. You have to celebrate New Year in the Ballroom really, don’t you?

We are treated to not one, not two, but three sets from the Super Furries, interspersed with two charming riots courtesy of Deerhoof and a spot of wandering about the Festy Hall visiting the ‘VIP Starf*ckers Blah’ (complete with red carpeted entrance and fake paparazzi flashing in yer face), the Old Man Pub, spotting olde Furries memorabilia (horses from the ‘Phantom Power’ stage set, a model of that teddy bear with it’s head in a vice, an ancient banner ca. the first album) and peering at Pete Fowler doing a drawing (‘Can you guess what it is yet?’ ‘Er, a Prog-rock Viking yeti monster with skull effects-pedals?’)

9pm: The first Furry set takes us on a journey of ‘ooh! they haven’t played this in years’ oldies and oddities, including 'Ymaelodi A'r Ymylon', 'Torra Fy Ngwallt Yn Hir' (personal faves for various insane reasons) a dreamy ‘Demons’ - with the crowd joining Gruff in happy ‘ba ba bas’ in lieu of the brass solo, ‘Hometown Unicorn’, a fab new song – the name and gist of which has been lost to vodka consumption, and ending with oh joy! ‘Ice Hocky Hair’.

10.30pm: A set similar to the one played to great effect on the Furries recent tour. I’ve been listening to ‘Hey Venus!’ a lot, and so it is with great glee that we greet the opening ‘Gateway Song’ and its swooning slide into ‘Run Away’. I frolic about merrily to the stuttering electro funk-up of ‘Baby Ate My Eightball’ and the multi-armed Eastern waveathon ‘Into The Night’. Hurrah! What a fantastic time we’re all having. Ending on an optimistic note to last us 'til midnight we get ‘Keep The Cosmic Trigger Happy’ with Bunf waving a placard that reads ‘Keep It Real’. With his crazy hermit hair and beard combo, he doesn’t look at all like a crazy old street preacher, oh no.

The countdown to midnight sees us watching a film projected onto the back of the stage. In it, SFA are riding around en route to the RFH in a golf cart. Then, as the clock hits twelve, here they are trundling triumphantly onto the stage in the self-same golf cart and cranking into 'Slow Life'. Gruff dons his Transformers helmet and hands out ‘party favours’ to the front row. He plonks into my hand one of those little kaleidoscope thingies that make you see the world in lots of refracted sections – like a fly’s eye. (side note: I once gave my friend K one of these for Christmas – she showed it to Bobby Gillespie who peered through it and announced, ‘It’s like being on Ecstasy!’ Doh!)

Midnight: This is the big old party, dance and holler set packed with the biggest, most rampagingest Furry songs for the happy crowd to bellow along to (not that they haven’t been doing this before), e.g. '(Drawing) Rings Around The World', ‘Golden Retriever’, ‘God! Show Me Magic’, ‘Hello Sunshine’ (how sweet to hear a room full of folk angelically chorusing ‘I’m a minger. You’re a minger too.’) and many more that are now lost in a haze of Grapefruit Absolut.

During ‘Receptacle For The Respectable’ Gruff favours Doritos as his crunchy percussion instrument (past percussion choices have included chewing on celery or carrots). I know they are Doritos as I am showered with the things when Gruff flings the left-overs into the crowd. Not the politest way to pass round nibbles. Or the most effective, as the tasty corn-based snax are instantly crushed to minute crumbs by our feet joyously stomping to the booming death-techno bit kicking in.

Of course the final song has to be ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ which, surprisingly, seems a tad underplayed. No matter though as we’ve had a huge dose of Super Furry goodness to inoculate us against the woes of coming back to earth on a chilly January morn, and look! here is an assortment of aliens, golden retrievers, pandas, etc lining up on stage as wobbling techno beats our cheery ears. Happy New Year!