Saturday 31 January 2009

Esiotrot / Foxes! split E.P. (Sounds Experience)

‘Inspired by sunny days and indie pop’ Esiotrot play itchy and catchy geek pop that’ll clear the clouds from your heart. ‘Tammy is Lez’ (yes) is so jauntily immediate it gets me wonky-grinning and gonky-dancing from the very opening chord. The singy man (Matt?) gargles in his cracked nerd-boy voice (see also Pete Shelley) as the band blam along in a ramshackle, cheery, damn endearing manner, all augmented by parpedelic brass and eager glockenspiel twinkling.

Glockenspiel is even more to the fore on second track ‘Spares’. Sparkly notes skitter in and out of a scribble of skewy brass and its all sweetly heartbreaking, lurching and swaying like a happy child with a gammy leg. Aww.

Foxes! take the lollipops from their mouths, stick them behind their ears and get down with indiepop mini-epic ‘Oh Rosie’. It’s a schizo tune, first racing along on cowpunkish guitar and splish splashy drums, then swooning into softly glowing keyboards before winding up in a sheeny furze of fizzing guitars and girl/boy vocals. Curious pop.

Foxes! sugary voiced singer Kayla Bell opens the casio-beat discopop of ‘It’s Ridiculous Adam’ by listing her failings, including the fact that “I can’t draw horses very well”. We’ll forgive her for this lack of equine artistry though, as the song ripples and shimmies and sounds like cheap sweeties. A bit odd, but tasty.

Four whole tracks available on 7" vinyl and digital thing from Sounds Experience = must have barg!

Sunday 18 January 2009

The Ex- Gurlfriend E.P. - The Loves (Fortuna Pop!)

Hurrah! It’s The Loves! Hurrah they are doing a thing where they give away three E.P.s featuring three songs each for FREE. In a rumbling, numerological build-up to the appearance of their third LP ‘THREE’. Three! Free! THREE!! Or something, maybe it's one track per E.P that's free? I dunno. How you’re meant to actually get hold of the things isn’t really adequately explained. Oh well. I’ve got my copy, so up yours. Try looking at this:
Also, the cover art of this is marvellous, as is the spelling of the word 'gurlfriend'. Cheers.

‘The Ex Gurlfriend’ is ram-a-lam-a slinky, rolling on a bed of wibbling drone with sneery self-taunting vocals. It’s The Loves in raspy, trashy garage mode, yeah!

Then Loves blues mode kicks in good-style for the Nik Cohn-tastic ‘Johnny Angelo Blues’. It’s creepy crawly laced with nasty while-my-guitar-gently-bleeds solo-ing and a bombastic poor old Johnny Angelo ending.

My fave is the last track ‘Around And Around’, propelled on a jerky guitar riff, sounding like one of those marvo cheeky new-wave/mod pop songs you got in the early eighties played by young men with sort of chewed up haircuts and half-mast trousers and goggly eyes. Erm, Buzzcocks, Lambrettas, people on Stiff Records, scuffed knees and amphetamines.

The Ballet / Help Stamp Out Loneliness / Pocketbooks – 9 January 2008, The Luminaire

A sold-out How Does It Feel To Be Loved night is our first gig of the year, cram-packed and full of friendly and really quite drunken faces (no new year de-toxes round here). London indiepop’s favourite sons (and daughter) Pocketbooks kick things off with what turns out to be the most enjoyable (for me) set of the night, lighting up the chilly January air with their heart-gladdening pop. Every time I see Pocketbooks, I’m always surprised at how fab they are – you’d think I’d have got used to it by now, but their slip-sliding melodies still catch me unawares whisking me along in their joyful, jangling rush. Happily, a lot of the crowd feels the same, joining in on cue with finger-clicks and handclaps. One regular indie-popper dances gleefully at the front to every song. Surely he should be taken on as Pocketbooks’ very own Bez?

Help Stamp Out Loneliness take to the stage to the sound of the tune that their band is named after – being sung by, er, Nancy Sinatra maybe? Not sure, wasn’t paying much attention. It’s a nice touch, anyways, and my attention soon gets taken up by interestingly named HSOL singer D. Lucille Campbell. She’s an arresting front-woman with catwalk figure, stage presence and cutglass cheekbones. The fashion correspondent from Sounds XP is a little vexed by the singer’s choice of frock. It is certainly very gold and shiny. But Campbell wears it with aplomb. And short dark hair. This looks good as she is flanked by matching long-haired blonde girls playing keyboards. HSOL have a pleasing symmetry if nothing else. Luckily, they do have something else in the shape of catchy, cheer-uppy, get-dancey tunes that shimmy along powered by big hits of Blondie-style sparkly pop. Campbell’s voice is deep and smoky and kind of Nico-esque (though without the fog-horn element that might imply), a timbre which sits oddly with the frisky upbeat songs. In the background two ex-Language Of Flowers johnnies get on with the guitar business as the drummer grins and sings – he’s having a fab time. Good. An odd combo, but in an intriguing stick-in-your-head way.

Last ups are The Ballet, three ‘sissypop’ New Yorkers playing rinky-dink glitchy, strummy pop songs that, despite the charm of singer Greg, slip effortlessly in one of my ears and out of the other as the glitterball spins and most everyone else in the audience has a high old time. Oh dear!

Wednesday 14 January 2009

I Don't Want To Have To Break Your Face

Mass debates on that old chestnut ‘twee’ seem to be doing the blog rounds again (thanks mainly to Tom’s grumpy old indie kid number here.) It’s a discussion that’s always good for a laugh, so I thought I’d stick my oar in.

As far as I’m concerned ‘twee’ was never a genre, it was a term of abuse. A v. brief rifle through the olde indie cuttings archive brings up a few instances of the word being used by big hairy music press types to CRUSH the kind of music that they don’t understand/ doesn’t speak to them because they are big hairy men (ug,ug).
‘Twee’ was an insult, but then no band seemed to want to own up to being ‘cutie’ or ‘shambling’ either. Surely, all those ‘scenes’ weren’t just a load of old crap made up by journalists? Picking through the cuttings now, it’s all a bit of a mess…

'Thankfully though times have changed. Where once there were wimpo twerps in anoraks ripping off all the Buzzcocks’ girliest traits, now there stand real men.'
[Review of The Soup Dragons from Sounds or somewhere, 1987 or something]

“Submarines was a silly, jokey name that tied us to the twee anoraks mob, which we aren’t…not that we’re the wild men of rock”
[The Submarines foolishly rename themselves Compass Flow, Record Mirror, 1987 ish]

“Sure we get crayon pictures through the post.” Well that’s your own stupid fault, isn’t it? Rip your name off a Buzzcocks song and what do you expect? “The name was chosen for reasons other tthan that. It was harsh image for a so-called wimpy band.”
{Razorcuts interview, Melody Maker,1987]

'Amelia launches into indie politics.
“What do you exect from a Blow Monkeys audience? The sort of people who slag us off and call us cuties are people who maybe like The June Brides, who are really close to liking Talulah Gosh but know enough about us to think they shouldn’t. They might shout at us. Blow Monkeys fans have no idea, nothing to react against…”
“I think they just thought ‘Who are those spastics up there?” decides Chris.'
[Talulah Gosh discuss supporting The Blow Monkeys (bizarrely enough) in Melody Maker 1987]

'At the mention of The Pastels, your whole conception of Stephen changes. Because this man fronts one of the few independent bands capable of extricating themselves from the tiresome and derogatory label, ‘Shambling’. '
[Interview with Stephen Pastel in Melody Maker, 1987]

'All I knew about The Pastels before their recent (and wonderfully over-ambitious) single, ‘Baby You’re Just You’, was that they were apparently a bunch of wimps in tatty v-neck jumpers…Sadly, they then relapse into twee tweaking – the title track is a sorry crock of mush if ever I heard one.'
[Review of The Pastels’ ‘Sittin’ Pretty’]

'They appeared on the abortive C86 operation and suddenly a whole group of bands claimed to have known them personally (anorak, I think, was how they were termed)...
‘Holy Moly’ was written for The Vaselines (Scottish sex god anorak group)'
[Everett True interviews The Pastels, Melody Maker, 1989]

I like what Stevie of Please Rain Fall

says, ‘A lot of people forget that the 80's was a time for taking sides.' True this. I'm sure a lot of it was down to the fact that everything is very black and white when you're young - chart music made us puke, twelve inch singles were the work of the devil - but we were growing up in a time of clear cut Left vs. Right politics, of fervent CND supporting and hardcore feminism and that made us actively despise anything that smacked of the right-wing, capitalist, patriarchal mainstream. This Us against Them mindset was empowering and was what drove the rise of our indieness - if what we did was dismissed as 'twee' then it meant we were being annoying. Good.

Everett True touches on the issue in his Vivian Girls interview in this month’s Plan B magazine:
‘Two decades ago I had to fend off accusations that the music I liked – not boorish, frailties intact, rooted in the Sixties femme pop of The Ramones and The Shaggs, often bordering on the shambolic – was somehow not ‘proper’. It was looked down upon as being amateur (like the word is an insult, like music is a competition). I was ridiculed roundly and often : the music got categorised and derogatorily referred to as twee…why?'

Excitingly, Plan B, those champions of ‘outsider music’ have a page dedicated to discussing the notion of ‘twee’. There are two points which I think are well-made and with which I whole-heartedly concur:

‘Twee’s something you accuse other people of being. If someone’s playing with the elements – delicacy, anti-macho, heightened sweetness, cult-of-naivety – and it hits you emotionally, you process them directly. If they miss, they’re twee.’
- Kieron Gillen

‘Twee can also encompass retro/kitsch; nostalgia; a very British kind of quirkiness. There’s a space on the Venn diagram where the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Oliver Postgate, Ghost Box, Trunk Records type stuff – even Broadcast, Pram etc – intersect with twee – it’s a space where things are nice, but weird ; biscuits and tea and soldering iron and ghosts. I approve of music that subverts, that celebrates the uncelebrated, and that gives credence to those with the quietest voices, celebrations of intelligence and awkwardness and confusion. What I don’t like is the un-awkward, media-friendly, attractive versions of the same.’
- Frances Morgan

So, in conclusion, to call something 'twee' is to insult it. It's not really a good thing, but it does seem to have evolved into a lazy way of describing a certain sound - although what that sound is precisely is kind of mysterious - try Googling 'new twee' (argh! I can hardly bear to type those words, bleugh!) and behold the hotch-potch of bollocks you get.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Only Fools On Horse

This line about the forthcoming Teeth Of The Sea album made me snigger (it conjures an excellent mental image) AND made want to investigate the record:

'Only Fools On Horse' the opening track on Teeth Of The Sea's debut Orphaned By The Ocean starts with a burning drone, like the noise Gary Numan hears in his head when he walks too close to a power station while eating an ice cream cone.'
- John Doran,
The Quietus

Nice bombastic cover art too.

Saturday 3 January 2009

First Frost - The Lucksmiths (Fortuna Pop!)

It’s a freezing November day, I’m wrapped in a blanket, head-fugged with a cold. ‘First Frost’, an album themed around the concept of city vs. country (FITE!), takes me on an armchair journey and shows me snapshots of different, distant days, a welcome distraction. There’s a lot of weather in this, The Lucksmiths’ eleventh album. Pretty much every song summons the elements; summer on skin, planting rainbows, wind from the north, cold autumn air, a sultry night, leaning into the winter wind.

The rattley, Morrissey-like ‘Up With The Sun’ opens with the evocative couplet ‘New sun behind me, like syrup on my skin / Honey remind me where it is we’ve been’ sung perfectly. Later on in the song, cripes! The Lucksmiths break out some splendid fuzz guitar. Mark Monnone’s ‘South-East Coastal Rendezvous’ kicks along nicely, riven with cracked, jubilant guitar that’s cheerily at odds with the song’s lyrical concerns of wandering in the rain getting hopelessly drenched.

On first listen, ‘A Sobering Thought (Just when One Was Needed)’ prompted an outbreak of seventies-style hands on hips, bending at the waist dancing in the Painting household such is the buoyant nature of its guitar riffage. Today I feel too feeble to move so instead I read the lyrics which initially seem to insinuate they’re about doing a wee on the floor when drunk*, ‘You’re puzzled by the puddles on the floor / It’s time that I came clean about last night.’ Later in the song, it’s a relief to find out that the puddles are in fact the result of a spot of drunken swimming pool breaking and entering.

The fantastically titled ‘The National Mitten Registry’ includes what sounds like a colliery brass band adding to its melancholy waltz (although according to the sleeve notes there are just three people playing various brass instruments) and is apparently written from the point of view of a lost glove (metaphor? Pah!). Twee!!!

The album’s lyric booklet features dreamy photos of sunlight glancing across the misty, frosty garden of the Tasmanian studio in which The Lucksmiths holed themselves up for the creation of this record. The place looks rustically magical and is a pretty convincing argument for escaping to a life of rural calm.

Between them, The Lucksmiths (all of the band have contributed songs here) use hopes, dream, memories, regrets to weave an album you can sink into, a blanket of warm sound. I blow my nose for the ten thousandth time, put ‘First Frost’ on for another spin and daydream my way out of London.

*Most men when questioned admit to mistaking the wardrobe for the lav during at least one drunken nocturnal toilet run, I’ve never really understood this.

Thursday 1 January 2009

My Best Albums 2008

Hush Arbors - Hush Arbors At the moment this is my perfect album.

4 - Dungen I adore Dungen and their mysterious prog ways. They are being tinklingly jazz happy here.

Dig, Lazurus Dig!! – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds Fearsome moustachioed rock ‘n’ roll lunacy.

Stainless Style – Neon Neon I cannot resist Gruff Rhys’ voice in any form.

Things That Roar – The Beep Seals Sweethearts of psych pop.

The Hive - Greg Weeks In the absence of any new Espers soundz this is just as good.

Alight Of Night – Crystal Stilts Echoey garage pop perfection, receiving many plays on the Painting stereogram.

Some of my fave albums also had rather splendid cover art, e.g:

Self-Taught Magic From A Book – Je Suis Animal Folktale forests of dreampop, and an OWL.

The Seventh Goodbye - Ben Nash Twisted experimental folk freakiness, pstrokeable psumptuous psychedelic cover.

Vol. 1 - Wooden Shjips DRONEZ! Purple skellingtons!!

These Flowers Of Ours: A Treasury of Witchcraft & Devilry – The Asteroid No. 4 Swooshy psych-gaze for lying in fields staring at the sky. My eyes are like, flowers collagework.

Directions To See A Ghost - The Black Angels Thunderously rumblesome head-noddy psych. Eye-squizzing, strobey red and green, touchy feely EMBOSSED cover. Num.