Sunday, 20 April 2008

The end of summer on Bookbinder road – Cocoanut Groove (Phonic Kidnapping Records)

Oh my! This is amazing. Cocoanut Groove is the work of Olov Antonsson (yes, another talented Swede – bah!), his pop daydreams fleshed out into real live moments of exquisite beauty with the help of numerous musicians. With ‘The end of summer on Bookbinder road’ they have created an astonishing thing. It’s baroque pop with a big, teary sound and on first listen you’ll feel like you’ve known this song all your life, whilst wondering where it’s been all this time. There’s melancholic brass, gauzy flute, and best of all a harpsichord stretches sedately underneath the whole thing – this pleases me immensely. My ideal band (the one in my head) has a harpsichord.

The obvious band name to drop here is The Left Banke – masters of sweeping pop moments that sparkle like jewels and of course the finest harpsichord purveyors in the pop universe. But there are also hints of Saint Etienne’s soft pop side and The Young Tradition’s sugar-spun West Coast-isms.

Even the title is perfect, like the name of a lost children’s literary classic full of scratchy ‘50s line drawings and a fading two-colour print dust jacket.

B-side ‘Shadow’ is spare and a little bit folky. Olov’s regret-stained voice, gently plucked guitar strings and a spectral violin suggest ripples spreading quietly over the surface of a pond. The music perfectly complements the imagery of the lyrics, ‘the stillness of the afternoon’, ‘a hazy August sky’ and ‘ten dusty books on a dusty shelf’. Sounds like holding your breath and remembering.

Buy this record and play it on repeat right now:

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Dilettantes / Sky Parade / Winter Drones / Time. Space. Repeat - 21st March 2008, Sonic Cathedral at The Social

It’s Good Friday, so diligently we go to worship at Sonic Cathedral. We take the sacrament (in a glass, with ice, numerous refills) and settle in for Time. Space. Repeat. who are just one bloke today doing swirly, drifty, shoe-y, post-rock-ish stuff with his guitar and voice. It’s pleasant enough, but I get distracted by the episode of shit sixties sit-com ‘Mothers In Law’ that’s showing on a screen behind the stage. In it, The Seeds are making a rather embarrassing guest appearance. They have lovely shiny hair and Sky Saxon swirls his cloak around. Hurrah! "We hope you like it. We think it’s gassy!"

Where were we? Oh, now Winter Drones are playing. Prior to clambering onstage, their keyboard player has been sitting with her back to me, sticking her bony elbows into my shoulders. This suggests a certain lack of co-ordination, as does her actual keyboard playing. But this is Winter Drones’ (good name, well done) first gig so we’ll give them some leeway, eh? Their songs hint at the whites of eyes rush of early Telescopes dissolving into the static crackle and snowfield hum of, er, late Telescopes. Intriguing.

Sky Parade are a bit too manly rocking for me. A bit too (metaphorical, I hope) foot on monitor, wind in hair riffin’. They’re another one of those bands that feature an ex-BJM band member (they get everywhere, don’t they?) in this case ex-bass player Tommy Dietrick – now vocalist/guitarist. And although they have their swirling moments and psych twinges, they’re just too sleek and rawk for me. Their sound suggests The Cult circa ‘Love’- dark, sleazy, goff-tinged. When I was fourteen, this would have been a good thing. Now it leaves me cold.

As anyone with eyes and ears nose, Joel Gion is the reason everyone digs ‘Dig’, Ondi Timoner’s Dandys/Jonestown crockumentary. He’s the one with the wild frizz and ginormo fly-eye shades, the stupid voices and the wacky antics. Well, he was. That was a while ago. Now he’s the leader of The Dilettantes, a band of psych-rock troubadours who take to the stage and give it some welly in a fine mod-poppin’ style.

They work their way through a set of beat tunes that sounds like its been lifted wholesale from some pop-sike compilation of long-forgotten garage-rockin’ nuggets. The guitars sparkle and sunshine melodies snap at your heels – these are perfect tunes for dancing like a loon.

Joel concentrates on playing the songs, not playing the fool. He sings in a rumbly drawl, shaking his tambourine with classic Gion aplomb. "Here comes the tambourine man, yeah you know what I mean" he sings on ‘Ready To Go’, storming in on a thumping backbeat - a spikily groovy call to arms for the beatkids. ‘Subterranean Bazaar’ is a furious fuzzin’, hard janglin’ freakbeat delight, blamming along at breakneck speed for optimum pop thrills. ‘The Whole World’ is high as a kite bubblegum fun that gets the crowd singing along with its instantly insistent ‘ba ba bas’, and for the few minutes it lasts the world is a goggle-eyed whirl of colour. ‘Don’t You Ever Fall’, on the other hand, does pastoral wide-screen psychedelic swoonage in the vein of the lovely Lovetones.

The band look fab in that Carnaby Street threads ago-go way that Yanks can get away with. We ponder the fact that if The Dilletantes were British, their clothes would make them look like gits. We also ponder the fact that one guitarist looks like Noddy Holder. Excellent work all round.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Horowitz / Town Bike / Mai 68s - 20 March 2008, Betsey Trotwood

Hurrah! First Bank Holiday of the year coming up and to celebrate there’s a handy Spiral Scratch Pop Show being held in the perfect indie-pop venue!

At least two of The Mai 68s songs begin with ‘Be My Baby’ / ‘Just Like Honey’ (delete according to taste) drumbeats leading me to think that maybe all their songs are going to start like this. Such an affectation would, of course, be utterly stylish. Turns out some of the songs have different rhythms. Oh well. I enjoy The Mai 68s and the racket they make. I like their plundering of revolutionary iconography in true first year art student style – the band name, the sixties underground garb, the er, shout-outs to Ulrike Meinhof. They have a stand-up drummer playing in the ‘bom, bom, bish’ style (like Bobby G. in The Mary Chain, obvs.) They have a guitarist who spends most of the gig ‘tuning’ up and who has more pedals than he knows what to do with, including, joy! a Fuzzface! As a result there are some highly satisfactory levels of fuzz ‘n’ feedback. It’s hard to tell which bits of these are actually meant and which bits are bonus noises as The Mai 68s don’t seem that in control of proceedings. This is another reason I enjoy them.

I also like the girl singer in her beret ‘n’ scarf ‘n’ glass of house red who divides her time between hissing at her band mates and intoning from her Big Book of Lyrics. The first ‘song’ involves Beat-like poetry being recited from the Big Book of Lyrics, whilst feedback reigns supreme -‘Howl’ set against a howl. Another song involves ‘nicking words from Dylan Thomas. He won’t mind, he’s dead’. One song stands out. ‘Froth On The Daydream’ (hey these kids know their French avant-anarcho stuff!) turns out to be The Mai 68s single – released in an edition of 100. As it says on their web site the song is delicious ‘sugar-coated chaos’, although there seems to be more chaos than sugar-coating going on here. There’s time for one last track, ‘Shall we do a noisy one or a jangly one?’ they ponder. The audience wants jangly, so that’s what we get. Just about.

Town Bike hurtle in wearing matching bowling shirts, pulling wheelies, doing headstands on their handlebars and generally fizzing about in an attention-grabbing manner. They’re full of energy and enthusiasm and it would be rude not to enjoy their 50 million song collection of punk-pop buzzbombs. Like fellow Liverpudlians Zombina and The Skeletones (only without the, you know, zombie element) they play on that whole fifties (American) High School bubblegum schtick, as originally appropriated by The Ramones and not left alone since.

Their first song is the Town Bike theme song which introduces each member of the band and their particular foibles (the bass player can get you anything knock-off apparently). One song features ‘audience participation’ – time for the indie milk-sops to clap their hands. In encouragement, singer and live-wire Sarah, yells ‘Pretend you’re watching Stereophonics’. So we all throw things at the band (not really). After a nosebleed race through fistfuls of punkpop fun, Town Bike end with the ridiculously stick in your head-ish ‘Trouble Fuckin’ Rocks’ which I initially hear as ‘Trevor Fuckin’ Rocks’ and think is a nice tribute to everyone’s fave Lost Music popbloke.

'Hug Target’, ‘Super Snuggles’, ‘I Need A Blanket’ – you could be forgiven for doing a bit of a sick at the industrial strength ultra-tweeness of Horowitz’s song titles. Or you could find them adorable and do little shuffly popkid dances to the songs and revel in the buzzsaw guitar action provided by Ian (he of the Gwegowy Webster voice and ‘What’s under the hat?’ hat) and Pete. Horowitz is just these two playing infectious, endearing guitar lines, whilst behind them lurks a large, bemusing-looking (technical term coming up) ‘backing music machine’ (yes, one of those).

‘Popkids Of the World Unite’ indicates that Horowitz have clearly been time-travelling and listening to our conversations circa 1987, when we’d snigger at ‘the swirlies’ (non pop-kid types in perms and stilettos) and sing ‘Popkids of the world unite and…hang the swirlies, hang the swirlies, hang the swirlies’ (two Smiths songs for the price of one, see?). Not very nice now I come to think of it. Unlike Horowitz, "All I ever wanted was a happy, happy heart and your cutesy hand in my hand" they sing and that’s the song lodged in your head for, ooh, at least the rest of eternity. ‘Sweetness I Could Die In Your Arms’ is full of spangly guitar sparkling like raindrops over a comforting fuzz meadow. ‘Traceyanne’ ends in the time-honoured indie-pop fashion with lots of ba ba bas and fervently jangled guitars peaking with a pop squeal of joy. ‘Sister’ is extra fuzzy and buzzy and thus extra enjoyable. For, despite the hardcore tweeness going on here, Horowitz are kicking up quite a racket. The kind of racket that’s only achievable with the treble and the fuzz turned right up, so our ears get a right old battering as the sound bounces around the Betsey Trotwood’s brick cellar. But hey, that’s what indie-pop’s all about. Right pop-kids?

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Always On The Telephone - The Ladybug Transistor (Fortuna Pop!)

I love The Ladybuggers, but it took me a while to come to terms with their sixth album, ‘Can’t Wait Another Day’. Sasha Bell no longer numbers among the band’s line-up, which is a shame as I have a bit of a lady-crush on Sasha and her ice-cold mountain stream voice. The music sounds more mature, less psychedelisised. And by the time I had come around to the album, the time to write about it had passed. Here, though, is a single from that album and cripes! it’s a track I initially had a bit of a prob with. This is mainly due to the saxophone solo and my immature inability to cope with same. As Gruff Rhys once said, ‘I vomited throughout your saxophone solo’.

So the sax makes me flinch a bit. The guitars though…Ahh, the guitars are liquid and luxurious. They peal out over everything as underneath the song glows warmly, country-tinged and rueful. There’s a downy, soft-focus quality to it all, like squinting through sunspots on the windscreen, or rummaging through browning photos of a long ago road-trip.

I can’t comment on the sleeve artwork for ‘Always On The Telephone’ ‘cos my copy doesn’t have any, but the cover photography for ‘Can’t Wait Another Day’ is sumptuous. Two of the band sit in an old subway carriage coloured in deep reds and dark greens. It suggests a mahogany seriousness, a grown-up-ness that comes from travelling and learning and managing to make your way through life without keeling over. Inside, the sleeve has images of expansive landscapes, each one leading the eye and the mind away towards a central vanishing point. There are paths to travel, journeys to make, horizons to explore beyond. And that’s what The Ladybug Transistor sound like. A rich sound. And really rather gorgeous.

(P.S. Photo taken by me. On my birthday)

Tape Art: Let Me Come Over

Here I have managed to make Buffalo Tom who were in no way at all twee, seem simperingly cute by adding speech bubbles to my rendering of the original (back) sleeve artwork. This is because I loved the Tom and not because I wished to denigrate their manly guitar playing. I think this might be my fave album of theirs (although there is ‘Birdbrain’…hmmm…). It has the lovely, lovely ‘Mineral’ which features the opening couplet ‘All spangled up, glittering on / there’s a monster in the kitchen, his light's turned on’ along with whirring, fizzing guitars that gradually build into fireworks in a summer sky and hurtling down the road at dusk, hair and eyes streaming in the wind. Ahhh, I just played it again and remembered how I ended up with a minor case of whiplash after going to see Buffalo Tom at The Underworld in 1991, such was my unrestrained joy and unfettered head-banging.

He had a psychotic episode on a dude ranch that involved a bottle of ammonia: Fave Tunes February/March 2008

Steel Your Girl – Neon Neon The twinkly side of sleekly constructed synth pop, sounding kind of like Wire’s ‘Outdoor Miner’. SerWOON! In danger of being played to death.

I Lust U – Neon Neon Synth bleepo disco-stuff, then Gruff’s voice makes your icy eighties heart melt. Once again: serWOONN!

My Elven Home - Gandalf The Grey Oddly jangle-pop sounding for something so obviously hippy-div.

Albert Goes West - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Lord Cave does The Jesus and Mary Chain whilst The Bad Seeds act like yobs. Plus, when old Nick asks ‘Do you wanna dance????!!!! Do you wanna move????!!!!’ with that much punctuation you’d better give the right answer.

Don’t You Ever Fail - The Dilettantes Dippy jangle refracting sun-psych

Greasy Crisps - The Sunny Street Blurred wistful dreampop belies title

Sparrow - Mountain Home Espers-esque etherealness – the best kind. Plus, look at their picture – fabulous.

Replica - The Shortwave Set Stately kaliedoscoping psychedelia found at the back of a dusty old cupboard

Shared Islands – High Places Animal Collective using sunbeams as wind-chimes

Sa Trace Silencieuse – Minimilk (Phonic Kidnapping Records)

Minimilk is Remi of Electrophonvintage / The Sunny Street murmuring in French to the accompaniment of a gently strummed guitar (courtesy of Sebastien). Remi sent me a nice letter with this record in which he uses the word ‘maladroit’ and for that alone I salute him. However, these four gossamer bossa tracks are also a reason to take a celebratory sip of coffee and stare wistfully out the window. These wispy songs, delicate as cobwebs, are the soundtrack to your own personal Truffaut film. They are breezes through open windows, sunlight flashing on lakes, buttercups under chins, lounging in the long grass and thoughtful walks home. Remi says the songs were recorded ‘a few years ago in the sunny kitchen…’ which is exactly how it should be. Tiny exquisite moments, elegantly packaged.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Projekt A Ko vs. Horowitz (Filthy Little Angels)

Like Talulah Gosh using childishness as a form of subversion, or Orange Juice being deliberately fey because it was punk, Horowitz are the sound of cheekily thumbed noses and being provocatively cutesy to get people’s backs up. This isn’t pigeon-toed limp indie with downcast eyes, but the sound of a band thoroughly revelling in the concept of twee-pop.

‘Sweetness I Could Die In Your Arms’ is a good old-fashioned jangle-pop anthem buzzing and sparkling, designed to turn the dance floor into a whirl of stripy t-shirts and flying fringes. It makes me remember why I fell for the anorak pop sound in the first place. Why it seemed like a rallying cry for the dispossessed – yes we have bowlcuts and dufflebags, but we’ll poke you in the eye with a lollipop and stomp on your feet with our Startrites, turn the treble up and make your ears bleed.

‘Hug Target’ (such an icky title it’s great) begins and end with perfect squeals of feedback (yum!) and in between weaves its merry way on an irresistibly chiming tune topped with la la las and Ian’s Gregory Webster on helium (yes! imagine that!) vocals. Sha la hurrah!

Over on the other, er, side (this ‘split seven inch’ is actually a collection of stinky old mp3s for me) we find more lovely distortion courtesy of Projekt A Ko who were once three-quarters of fab raygun noisters Urusei Yatsura. ‘Nothing Works Twice’ sees the band operating on the if-it-ain’t-broke premise, kicking up a welcome dust-storm of crunchy noisome pop. There are cheeky screeches of strangulated feedback, scratchy rhythms and cheery foot-to-the-pedal singalong bursts of tuneful chaos. ‘Goodbye Sunlight’, on the other hand, begins with unfettered guitar strumming, lulling you into a false sense of security before the fuzz-pedals get hit. The wooziness of the tune even hints at the sounds of late sixties soft-pop (say Harpers Bizarre or someone). A fabulous combination of J Mascis-style laidbackness and um, J Mascis-style guitar torturing. Sounds like going out on summer evenings as the light fades and the streetlamps come on.

Facts bit: The single, featuring two songs by each band, is limited to 200 copies, available exclusively online. You can order it now from

Saturday, 5 April 2008

I Felt My Sad Heart Soar – Kelman

This is a three-track sampler for Kelman’s rather excellently titled forthcoming second album and a very pleasing thing it is indeed. The band have built on their melancholic, alcoholic tear-stained sound, gently prising it open to let in wisps of fresh air. They say they’re aiming for a rawer sound, closer to their live excursions (which can be heart-wrestingly, wrist-snappingly wonderful) whilst keeping the warmth and intimacy of their debut. And jings! I think they’ve achieved this.

Kelman have warmth and intimacy for sure, at times you feel embarrassed to be eavesdropping on Wayne Gooderham’s thoughts. Take former single ’Is This How It Ends?’ reprieved here with its shiveryness and blood pumping in the ears rumble and the words ‘On the brink of something big. I’ve never known failure like this…’ You want to blush and look away, but icicle-drops of glockenspiel drip into a swell of guitar and organ and you cling on until seascape cymbals shimmer you towards a big finish, rushing impulsively over the edge.

‘Commercial Road’ sees Kelman in almost-optimistic-mood-shocker! It takes some song-writing ability to write anything of beauty about this particular East End street, but here is an affecting song filled with soft ripples of delight. A gentler, more soothing sound with twinkly bits and brass tones (you can’t be down when the brass kicks in) and those words, "I felt my sad heart soar". Hang on though, what’s this? "Oh Lord I need a drink". Oh dear.

There’s a lot of drunkenness in Kelman’s songs, and it seems like the new album will see more booze-fuelled long dark nights of the soul. This is, of course, no bad thing, as Kelman are quiet masters of the art. ‘Shut A Final Door’ sees Mr Gooderham "drunk in charge of a wired jealous heart" sliding through Tindersticks territory with cello and piano until everything cracks wide open on a jubilant organ riff and redemptively strummed guitar. Sounds to make your heart soar coming soon. Can’t wait!

All Hat And No Plans / Great Expectations – My Sad Captains (White Heat)

A double A-side from your fave superior-quality, melody-plying twangle merchants. Both tracks slather on that delicious, rollingly lush, glowing Captains sound you want to throw your arms right round. It would take a venomous churl indeed to deny the glorious, soft-focus (bitter) sweet-heartedness of this brace of pop lovelies.

‘All Hat And No Plans’ lays out a picnic of exuberant, chewing-gum guitar, dippy divey harmonies and la la las tempered with just the right amount of rough-edged buzzing waspiness to stop it all being syrupy. Just try and stop your heart leaping.

‘Great Expectations’ (they’re quite literary aren’t they? This is good to see) has the wee bespectacled singer man going "I’m gonna get you out of this if it’s the last thing I ever do" in a surprisingly rich voice (this is good to hear) and makes my memory hear fab olde pop tune ‘Nancy Sinatra’ by The Groove Farm. If that wasn’t delightful enough, the song slides lovingly into a series of "do ron ron a do rons" and it turns out that’s exactly what you needed to hear at that point. Genius!

The Lodger - 13 March 2008, The Gramophone

A soggy Thursday night, an extra-long wait for the bus, two not-that-inspiring support bands…and then The Lodger come on and play an over-in-the-blink-of-an-eye set that makes sullen hearts soar. They may not look it (just some blokes, now with added girl), but The Lodger are something special, festooning the room with bursts of spangling pop rattled out on careening guitars. Their songs are like sherbet lemons, exploding open with melodies. Attack is the best form of defence and we’re easily sucker-punched by the fistful of new songs the band fling at us, making us eager for the new album, ‘Life Is Sweet’ due out in May. Forthcoming single ‘The Good Old Days’ out-Orange Juices Bricolage – it has the funk AND the jangle and is terrifyingly catchy. A short, sharp dose of Springtime. Of course there are the beloved older songs too, which we still cherish. Take ‘ Many Thanks For Your Honest Opinion’. Remember when that was a wee demo blinking its way into the world, impressing me from the get go? I feel all heart-warmed and nostalgic when it gets played as tonight’s set closer. The Lodger I love yer!