Sunday 31 August 2008

Spit your sparkle on someone new. Fave Tunes July/ August 2008

Sparkle Spit – Je Suis Animal Elegant Norwegian spooked-up shivery dreampop

You On The Run - Black Angels Turn vol. to max. Nod head at way this sounds like a shell-shocked version of the Doctor Who theme.

Machines - Lothar and the Hand People Sounded weirdly familiar when heard on Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone (essential Sunday afternoon listening)

You Made Me Realise (live) – My Bloody Valentine Loudness takes on exciting new forms

My Love - Asteroid #4 Drifty pastoraldelia for green days. Can’t wait to get hold of the splendidly-titled album ‘These Flowers of Ours: A Treasury of Witchcraft and Devilry’

The Waves Crash In – Spiritualized
Frolicsome – like Disney bluebirds fluttering in cutesy patterns around your happy face.

While You're Away - Fovea Hex Stillness, solar flare, Clodagh Simonds of Mellow Candle!

SOL ’07 - Wooden Shjips
Sprawling, squalling, scribbly droning

Keep Your Head – The See See Psychedelic Jangle-pop!

Water Curses – Animal Collective Running excitably through meadows, clambering up trees and falling out of them again

Time Will Show The Wiser – Fairport Convention Before they went well folky, Fairport came over all Byrdsy

Use Your Other Head – The Beep Seals
Sunshine melting harmonies. The whole album is perfect summer soundtrack fodder.

Kuad 9873 - Ben Nash Brrr, deeply creepy spooky-psych in album packaging so ace, me and the record shop man had a jolly good discussion about it.

Psychomania Burial Scene Hurrah for BBC 4’s B-movie season which brought this cinematic masterwork to my attention. The hippy/acid-folk biker funeral scene and accompanying soundtrack is the best bit:

Sunday 17 August 2008

Indietracks – Midland Railway Centre, Saturday 26 July 2008

A few weeks ago, there was an amusing article in The Independent on Sunday maligning the industrial quantities of ‘landfill indie’ (Pigeon Detectives, Fratellis, bands I have minus interest in hearing) that are clogging up the musical universe at the moment. There was much lamenting over ‘mortgage indie’; dull, samey guitar bands churning out identical songs to make a fast buck. ‘With such bland uniformity so speedily infecting our nation’s youth, is there any hope left for a flourishing and truly ‘indie’ scene?’ wails the writer, Tim Walker. A HA HA HA! The ‘truly indie scene’ is right here at Indietracks hidden away in the middle of Derbyshire, having the time of its life, ignoring the irrelevance of the mainstream, ducking commodification, doing things its own way, getting on with stuff just like its always done. There are nigh on a thousand people here and nothing that even approaches being landfill indie. We are the popkids, we are the winners!

Fuelled by midget gems, the Sounds XP-mobile (in which we have cadged a lift) gets us to Utterly Butterly station just in time to catch the Steaming Train (a real-life olden tymes steam-train sporting yay! an ‘Indietracks’ name-plate) to Anorak City (the Midland Railway Centre at Swanwick). A Man From The Railway ambles through the carriage, telling us, ‘There’s going to be a nice bit o’ indie music in the guards van now’, and eager for the pop fun to commence we hurry along, meeting all kinds of friends en route to hear Marjit Vinjerui’s delicate woodland glade voice. This turns out to be a harbinger for the weekend, it’s impossible to go more than a few steps without running into one’s pop-chums. Truck Festival was top fun and laidback and all village fete-y, but Indietracks is POPFUN to the power of infinity, the happiest, friendliest event ever, ever, ever.

It’s also the hottest event ever. The sun beats down mercilessly, and when it does deign to go a bit cloudy, the humidity just gets ratcheted up. What a sweat-fest. At times my brain melts, songs and performance oozing from my memory like runny brie. This is what I remember:

The Main Stage is in a large metal engine shed – it’s boiling in there, but it’s boiling everywhere. Also in the boiling metal shed: the merch stall laden with a splendid array of fanzines and fliers and records and loveable wee felt badges; the bar laden with an eye-spinning selection of real ales and (not very) fine wines. On the stage are The Kick Inside who, despite the greenhouse atmosphere, are gamely throwing themselves into a set of firey jangle-heavy songs, wearing their eighties indie-pop hearts on their sleeves. The guitar sound rattles along in a manner reminiscent of The Railway Children driven by fidgety rhythms as singer Sean shimmies round the stage, throwing in a few Morrissey-moves. It’s impressive stuff so early in the day.

The Outdoor Stage is the back of a truck (now where’ve we seen that before?) and it contains Slow Down Tallahassee. I’d been looking forward to this lot, but it’s too hot to concentrate on their honeyed girl harmonies singing sassily deranged pop. Plus there’s gossiping to be done.

Back on the Main Stage Shrag are battling against heat exhaustion and winning Everyone is impressed by the drummer who fights on gamely, managing not to faint until after the set. This is a good thing as Shrag are fab; agitated pop-songs like Comet Gain in a blender, jittery tunes, squealy vocals, squiggly keyboard implosions, scribbled guitar. They judder about, playing the hilarious, filthy, girl puts boy in place, ‘Talk ToThe Left’. And they have a song called ‘Mark E. Smith’.

We take a train ride, braving the furnace that is the guard’s van to listen to Colin Clary of The Smittens knocking out lovable acoustic pop. We disembark at Butterly, but Colin plays happily on and on. And on, trundling back and forth keeping the troops entertained for ages. He is the cheeriest man on earth.

On the Outdoor Stage, Liechtenstein do shimmery Swedey pop laden with girl-harmonies entertainingly enough, but we’re hot and bothered. Seeking shady sanctuary in the tea tent, we find a haven of comfy cushions, mugs of peppermint tea and peanut butter cookies, and the only place on site with an even vaguely civilised temperature. At times the tea tent hosts impromptu acoustic performances and, later, loopy disco-dancing, but we miss those bits.

Back outside, we sit in the afternoon sun enjoying the loon-eyed mariachi sugar-psych pop of Red Pony Clock. There are loads of them (eight) up there, parading a motley array of instruments; clarinet, accordion, trumpet, glockenspiel. They’re how I’d imagine a school band in Napoleon Dynamite’s neighbourhood to be – geekily fab. They do crazed fiesta songs with funky bass lines and runaway tempos, their Mexican roots tangled inextricably around their sunshine pop sensibilities, it’s all a bit head-mangling. Do Red Pony Clock really exist? Maybe I have sunstroke.

I manage to edge my way into the slowly increasing slice of shade in front of the stage for The Kabeedies and find myself thoroughly enjoying their itchy, multi-harmonied, gonky-dance-encouraging tunes, including one that extols the yoghurty wonders of ‘Petit Filous’. Even with a broken guitar string that means they can’t play certain songs they are top toe-tapping FUN! As is watching The Bobby McGees enthusiastically cutting a rug at the front.

I'm looking forward to seeing Comet Gain, but as we hurry along to the Main Stage, we hear whispers that David Feck isn’t here. Nor are any other members of the band, apart from Jon Slade. Instead, Not Comet Gain featuring some Shrags and a Liechtenstein accompany Mr Slade for a ramshackle attack on the C.G. back-catalogue. This bizarre non-performance rapidly gathers its own mythology. Sean Fortuna Pop tells me glinty-eyed that they played the best version of ‘You Can Hide your Love Forever’ he’s ever seen, an eight minute long dronerock version no less, featuring Just Some Bloke Out Of The Audience (a Liechtenstein associate) on vocals. Jokes about the performance abound, e.g. the merch stall selling a Comet Gain disc with the enticing label ‘Features members of Comet Gain’. And the excellent “If I wanted to see a bunch of people who couldn't play Comet Gain songs I would have gone and seen Comet Gain”. Aha ha ha!

We miss all this fun as we’ve nicked off to watch The Lodger jangle jangle JANGLE their way through a short, sweet set. Recent single ‘The Good Old Days’ sees an outbreak of dancing at the front, folks riding high on the Orange Juice grooviness and JANGLING guitars. And then we get actual Orange Juice with a cover of ‘I Can’t Help Myself’. Verily our jangle-pop cups runneth over.

Last act on the Outdoor Stage is Russian band Punk TV who send great swirls of effects-laden guitar into the sun-struck evening. They sound like early nineties indie-dance, when shoegaze met baggy (or possibly vice versa). One of the band even has the requisite stripy top. The sun starts to set and two hot air balloons drift by. One of them, decorated to look like a giant ladybird, alights in a nearby field and slowly, gracefully deflates. Insert some kind of metaphor here if you want.

The Wedding Present obviously attract a large crowd of moshing ‘older gentlemen’, some of whom appear to have brought their tiny children with them, jiggling the long-suffering kids about on their shoulders/in prams etc. I last saw The Wedding Present in 1987. The last album I bought by them was ‘George Best’. Er, that was their debut wasn’t it? So I’m not that au fait with David Gedge’s mighty back catalogue. I stand near the back listening to the songs rumble in one after the other, like waves – they all seem the same, though logically you know each one must be a bit different. It’s just a sludge of guitar-based meat and potatoes songs – I’m missing the subtle nuances, I’m afraid. After what seems like an eternity, we retire to a grassy knoll for a bit of a sit down. This means I miss hearing one I know, ‘You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends’. Or maybe I don’t, it’s hard to tell.

Saturday 16 August 2008

Indietracks – Midland Railway Centre, Sunday 27 July 2008

Hurrah the sun’s gone away! We mooch around the engine sheds peering at engines in various states of disrepair until it’s all aboard the steam train for the first set of the day from a vaguely hungover Pete Dale of Milky Wimpshake. Starting appropriately with a sweet sleepy version of ‘Sunday Morning’, Mr Dale serenades us with a selection of protest-folk songs, endearing love/lust songs and a couple of covers (Daniel Johnston’s ‘Speeding Motorcycle’, Billy Childish’s ‘Cowboys Are Square’). Also, he has a fab Bangs t-shirt on. As the train races and the guitar strums, it all feels quite exhilarating. There are rock ‘n’ roll thrills ‘n’ spills as Pete stands on a chair! and wobbles precariously!! when the train starts to move. Pete forgets the words to an olde Milky Wimpshake song and the tune grinds to a halt, but serendipitously, we’re back at Swanwick station and our morning jaunt is over.

It’s Sunday, so obviously we head for church. A Victorian, railway-workers church, of course. Later in the day, this church (built of tin, lined with wood-panelling, crammed with eager popkids) will officially become the sweatiest building in Britain, but for now, it’s a relief to sit in its shady environs, as the pesky sun has returned. We’re here to see The Middle Ones, two girls in vintage dresses and full of giggles, joined today by ‘The Sunday Best Orchestra’, three boys playing an oddment of instruments who have been forced to wear ties (it is a Sunday!) by the girls. Their set is utterly charming, like a school music project that’s had endless hours of care lavished upon it. You can’t help but let your heart be melted by the girls’ harmonies and their delicate, personal folk-tinged pop songs. Not to mention the TWO accordions, shaky eggs, endless smiles and intriguing lyrics. It’s all very Indietracks. At the end, everyone rushes up to buy their record. We are all converts. Hallelujah!

My brain keeps insisting on calling A Classic Education, ‘A Catholic Education’ because my brain is a Teenage Fanclub fan. After today’s set, both my brain and I are A Classic Education fans. The band enter the church by processing down the aisle from the front door to the stage, and then burst into a thoroughly thrilling set. They are from Bologna, so you’d think they’d be able to handle wearing matching shirt and waistcoat combos in this heat, but even they are reduced to dripping sweat-heaps by the end, such are the sauna-like conditions that are now starting to build up here in God’s house. We perch on the front pews, stomping our feet excitably. This is fab! Mercury Rev-tinged open-hearted, baroque pop, layered up with racing guitars, ecstatic violin and suitably ecclesiastical organ. The band fizz with energy, buzzing around the stage, rebounding cheerfully from one another. The bass player NEVER stops grinning his head off. By the end, we can’t stop grinning either.

Zoey Van Goey are from Glasgow, but they’re not Glaswegians. They play folky pop with handclaps and scampery drums and strummed guitars and sweet girl/boy vocals that sing things like ‘Do you remember how we met? Paying off our student debts. We had no other plans. So we taught English in Japan’. In front of me two girls are waving Thomas the Tank Engine flags emblazoned with the words, ‘Full Steam Ahead’. I get distracted by the view out the church window – a gymkhana on a hill in the distance, and what appears to be a train driver punching the air in triumph as his steam train rolls into Swanwick once again. Maybe it’s just this spiked Tango I’m drinking?

Outside for some ‘fresh’ air and a brief burst of The Smittens who are on the Outdoor Stage playing their sha la la filled American take on cute-pop. We go and eat chips in the café and watch A Catholic Education perusing the stodgy British fare on offer - none of yer antipasti here pal.

Silver-tongued Scotsmen The Starlets have just arrived with not even the chance of a whisky snifter before they regale us with tales of drinking in underpasses, jakies and Partick Thistle. These somewhat grim subjects are wrapped in downily luxuriant pop filled with violin and cornet and lead by singer Biff’s whispery Scots soulboy voice. It’s been about five years since we last saw The Starlets, but there are some familiar songs in the set - ‘Rocking In A Shy Way’, ‘Novocaine’ – glowing with melancholy sweetness. The Starlets also provide the best onstage banter of the weekend. As Biff is telling us how going to church and playing football were irritatingly linked when he was young (you had to do one before you could do the other), a dog barks briefly. Bizarrely, when Biff asks if we all heard it (we did) the crowd deny all knowledge of dogs. Biff reminisces about how a Jack Russell would sometimes run onto the pitch during matches and how it doesn’t seem to happen now, and how a few bands could be improved by the addition of a rogue dog. A few songs later the barking starts up again and there’s no ignoring it – it’s Darren Hayman’s dog having a sing-along.

We wander about catching odds and ends of sets. The Deirdres’ spazzy, sixth-form band craziness that excites Jesus-freak levels of fan-worship and demented indie spammo dancing; Esiotrot’s Herman Dune-esque outsider folk-pop; Milky Wimpshake’s simple-hearted punkety-pop odes to love; swilling half a pint of pink wine on ice whilst listening to a Manhattan Love Suicide declare his love for Yazoo…

Je Suis Animal are Scandinavian woodland creatures floating in a candyfloss cloud of sparkling dreampop. And if that sounds a bit too cute, then they’re also slightly macabre, with odd, spooky folk-tale lyrics. And on top of that they’re blasting out a great big wall of guitar noise. The wood-lined interior of the church, the sinking sun illuminating its windows, is the perfect setting for them. Through the furze of dry ice and flickery lights, they seem rather other-worldly. The songs mix Lush at their most incandescent, with the dippily playful slip-sliding melodies that underpin My Bloody Valentine, with cute Shop Assistant-isms (jangly bits, sweet girl voices), and hello, here’s a hint of Stereolab. All this adds up to spiralling shoe-gaze loveliness – the kind that experiments with textures and sounds to heart-bursting effect. By the end it feels like the church has been levitated into a different fairytale dimension and it’s somewhat disconcerting to wander dazed out the door to find the Railway Centre still there. I’d expected an enchanted forest at the very least.

Tonight’s ‘big’ headliners are Los Campesinos!, indie warriors with all the right references: Amelia Fletcher, Calvin Johnson, cherryade, mix-tapes, ATP. Singer Gareth does a little speech about how headlining here, in the heart of the proper indie nation, means a lot to him - and he seems to mean it. When the band start to play it’s like you’ve just smashed open the biggest piñata in the world. Sweeties and toys and brightly coloured fizz-bang stuff raining down on your whirlwind head. There’s glockenspiel and violin, girl/boy vocals and ferocious guitar scrabbling, scritchy-scratchy tunes with lure-you-in-then-sprint-away-from-you rhythms. The hyper-energetic Los Campesinos! live experience is like cramming your face full of confectionary, then cramming in a bit more. Head-popping sugar-rush overload. Lots of fun. Exhausting. Half-way through, we creep out. The band’s ‘big hit’, ‘You, Me, Dancing’, jumps out into the night after us fizzing in the cooling air as we head back to the Sounds XP-mobile. A reminder that, thanks to the likes of Indietracks, you can’t stop the indie-pop.

Monday 11 August 2008

31st Floor - The Tamborines

Out today!

Buzzing, fuzzing, squealing, squalling. This is a fabulously nasty pop single, loaded with all the right elements without being complicated; darkly Reid-esque* vocals, cute wee minimalist bleeps on the keyboards, viciously fuzzed up guitar, a creepingly infectious tune.

Black and white flashes. ‘31st Floor’ sounds leanly monochrome, like flicking through ‘Up-tight’, everybody’s favourite Velvet Underground book. “I trip inside your wired mind” sings Henrz, word associating to The 13th Floor Elevators. And indeed, to Primal Scream. You can imagine Bobby singing this if Primal Scream were still good. But they’re not, so enjoy The Tamborines’ impeccable coolness (the elegant sleeve houses a clear vinyl seven inch!) and ability to write irresistible tunes.

And there’s value for money too, with not a b-side in sight. Over on the flip you get ‘Come Together’, familiar to anyone who’s seen The Tamborines live as that sweet-hearted fuzzbomb that has you nodding along furiously, powered by hard-edged guitar jangling, big thumpy drums, soary Ride-like vocals and a wonderfully swoopy tune.

*Jim/William obviously

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Wooden Shjips / The Heads / Teeth Of The Sea – Cargo, 13 July 2008

Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting enjoying an invigorating Żubrówka (thank you for this, Poland), idly perusing Plan B, listening to Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone on the radio. This combination of influences causes my brain to invent the concept of twee-drone. Hmm, it thinks, apropos of not much, I like indie-pop, I like drone-rock, how would it be to combine the two? Could be exciting, no? Later that same evening, Wooden Shjips miraculously read my thoughts and finish what’s been a fine set of staring-into-spaced grooves with a song that sounds like The Primitives’ ‘Thru The Flowers’ filtered through a drug-induced coma. It’s fabulous, woozy and cute, slightly disturbing, fantastically groovy. All hail Wooden Shjips.

First things first, though, we walk into Cargo as Teeth Of The Sea are playing. The room is wracked by bursts of horror film sonics. A fearsome psychedelic lightshow spiralling out into the gloom illuminates band and audience equally. A member of the band with a Flying V is twisting about chaotically, like a lanky-limbed loon. A few notes of trumpet are blasted into the maelstrom, looped and then regurgitated over and over, the brass adding a sinister/melancholy tone to the menacing growl being dredged up by the tormented guitars. Drums are of the stand-up variety (my favourite kind!) adding stark, lonely beats. Aah, it’s like coming in from the cold to a welcoming fire, I immediately feel all cosy and cocooned by the noise and the flickering light; nicely set up for an evening of head-spazzing soundz.

The Heads sound like 1991. As they play, I keep getting cider flashbacks to nights spent in Camden Falcon. This is hardly surprising as The Heads are from 1991, at least, their first single came out in 1994, but they were inspired by stuff that everyone (hello) in 1991 was inspired by: Spacemen 3, Loop, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney. Their guitarist/singer man even has 1991 hair, i.e. a long bob type affair, the same length all the way round, parted in face-curtains (see TFC’s Norman Blake). In 1991 everyone at gigs had this hair, to the point where anyone with short hair just looked really weird and freakish. The Heads sound like a colossal head-crunching meld of their influences, though the Mudhoney bits seem most to the fore – skanky, grubby garage billowing through a typhoon. They create a colossal all-consuming marshland of sound that warps and skews into unholy shapes. Songs stretch and contract, taking your mind with them until you’re standing stupefied by sound, retinas burning from back-projection overload.

And so to Wooden Shjips, a band that have been bothering the Kitten home stereo system frequently this year. I’ve been getting all excited about this gig. Quite rightly, as the Wooden Shjips live experience matches the hype in my head. The singer/guitarer Shjip, Erik Ripley Johnson (good name there) is rocking a splendid beat-wizard look with long hair and longer beard, which clearly just adds to their San Francisco droner rock appeal.

Where The Heads sound like their oil-slide projections; irregular, oozing, splurging in erratic directions, Wooden Shjips pulsate precisely, sending out concentric circles of sound, ripples that expand into infinity, catching you on their journey outwards into space, locking you into their pattern. Their songs start with straight-up garage riffs played heavily, then repeated, repeated, repeated, bulging into spaced mantras. Fuzzed to the max. Organ notes shiver out over the top; snakey, shakey, out of the loop percussion trips the rhythm; motorik drums stick to the beat mercilessly and distant, insanely reverbed vocals occasionally sprout from the thatch of sound. Its sparse, skeletal psychedelia reduced to its vital components and hammered out hard, yet at its heart oddly ethereal. And it has tunes. I try getting ‘Losin’ Time’ out of my head, but it won’t shift. People even dance – proper moves and grooves, not just Head noddings. Sailing into space. It’s the only way to travel.

Monday 4 August 2008

Summer Falls

Zut alors! What a formidable couple of weeks it’s been.
There was WIZARD BEARDERY, monged-out drones and purple skellingtons at the eagerly anticipated (by me) Wooden Shjips gig.

Then the ever ridiculous Brian Jonestown Carnival careened into the Forum, skidded to a halt to soothe our souls with the likes of ‘Sailor’ and ‘Swallowtail’ before poor old Frankie Teardrop was STABBED TO DEATH (copyright: The Sun) after the gig for knackering a microphone during his alarmingly ‘punk rock’ performance of ‘Golden Frost’, only to be resurrected in time to play a Belgian festival the next day.

The drone-funz continued with a top Sonic Cathedral night featuring The Early Years striving for and frequently achieving greatness despite hideous ‘technical problems’ (go see them live, please) and a set by Spectrum during which Kate and I saw Sonic Boom’s PANTS quite often as he bent down in front of us to fiddle with the ‘technical problems’ (Calvin Kleins, pant-fans).

Truck Truck Trucky –hurrah! the best pop fun on an Oxfordshire farm you could ever hope to get, with added Sunday Sonic Cathedraling, plus the BEAST of Truck – the cutest monster ever.

And the following weekend, Indietracks – the best pop fun in a Midlands railway museum you could ever hope to get, topped with LASHINGS of sunshine (rather too many lashings actually) and a million friendly faces.

Summer 2008 you are GRATE.
And I may even write about you properly at some point.