Wednesday 27 May 2009

Come Saturday. 16 May 2009

Wake up to a sunny day of Pains action. A quick bus ride up the road and we’re hangin’ in Rough Trade East, dissecting last night, anticipating today and inspecting ‘Black Medicine Music’ by Stag Hare which has got a strangely compelling sleeve. In a corner, Kip of the Pains is having a er, kip in an armchair. Don’t blame him, it seems to be a pretty punishing schedule the band are following.

Help Stamp Out Loneliness play a support set and their bright ‘n’ breezy tunes sound great on this bright ‘n’ breezy morn. They really are right catchy, the songs tumbling round your brain on spin-cycle. Singer D. looks resplendent in purple satin troosers and a natty velvet bow-tie. Also, I'd forgotten they did that cover of Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Rush Hour’ and am charmed all over again when it appears. You can see light-bulbs going on above peoples’ heads when the chorus kicks in.

We shuffle about and wonder which idiot has left a rucksack apparently containing a laptop lying around on the floor, alongside a copy of Simon Reynold’s ‘Rip It Up’. This is the East End you know – can’t just leave shit lying around and expect it to be there later. Or maybe it’s a bomb? Who knows? Being caring types we tuck the book away safely so it doesn’t get damaged and keep a wary eye on the laptop/bomb. At the end of the Pains set we stand about admiring Peggy’s keyboard case - the neatly stencilled band name set off with a tiny stencilled heart - and watch as she collects the laptop/bomb and book. Oh.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart play a short sharp set, looking slightly bleary, but sounding ferocious. The second guitar boots all the tunes up the arse, especially with some wailingly tremendous tremolo arm action on ‘Come Saturday’ - eeoooww, screee! The songs woosh and Pop! and in one of those time-stops moments of sonic ascension I suddenly feel overwhelmed at their fabness and the way the noise is hurtling around us so perfectly and I almost get teary. Luckily, the moment passes when Kip knocks the mic off the stand and has to wrestle it back up whilst continuing to play and sing – quite an impressive feat.

Ooh, ‘eck it’s sweaty in the Windmill. We’re all squidged in enjoying our second bout of Pains. It’s just like the olden days down the furnace-like Falcon, only without the bass player from The Fury Things fainting off the stage mid-song. The Pains are obviously hard-core – Kip remains resolutely zipped into his jacket, Peggy stays cardie-ed up. They joke about not being allowed to take off their ‘cardigans’. To do so would be contravene indiepop rules.

This is the best set yet; crashing and crunching and swooning in all the right places, the band a perfect pop gang. As an encore we get the mythical b-side of ‘103’ that our pal John has been telling us sounds kind of Orange Juice-y. In fact it sounds REALLY Orange Juice-y, jangling away, much cleaner than the normal fuzztastic Pains tunes (only one guitar here). Alex even gets the bass a bit Postcard-funky. The song’s called ‘Falling Over’. It turns out that the band’s working title for the song was ‘Orange Juice Song’. Indeed.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart / The Loves / The Draculas – 15 May 2009, The Lexington

7.30 at the Lex and lo! already there is a queue of people anxious to get hold of the last remaining tickets on the door. Right at the front is our olde friende Trev. He’s been here since 5pm. This is his first Pains Of Being Pure At Heart gig (not counting today’s Pure Groove instore), but he’s going to three others ‘making up for lost time’. There seem to be plenty of folks making up for lost time tonight, the place is noticeably busier than when last the Pains played. The audience is younger too, the kidz finally cottoning onto the buzz that was getting their elders all excited this time last year. This means there’s no 30-something moshpit tonight. In fact there’s no moshpit at all, the kids being content to nod along happily, maybe for fear of disturbing their st, st, st Studioline hair.

The Draculas include Patrick (rattling good drumbeats) and Roxanne (Peter Pan collar, big red guitar) who used to be in The Royal We and Sexy Kids. They have good fringes and sound tres olde schoole indie-poppe. At first they make me think of Esmerelda’s Kite (yes), jangly, fizzy, cutesy, although this might be because E.K. had a song called ‘Vampire Girl’. Then they play a song that seems to have the guitar riff from The Primitives’ ‘Thru The Flowers’. Which is always nice. I especially enjoy Patrick’s thumperific drumming, complete with tambourine taped to the top of the tom. Old school, you see. They improve as the set progresses, ending with a fuzzy, blurry rumbling kind of song…

Swizz! We were promised Simon Love in a cape. We thought it might herald The Loves’ new prog. direction, but no, the cape's been forgotton and they’re being their groovy old selves, albeit in a mighty rockin’ star spangled manner. And look! bass-player Danielle is back! back!! back!!! a mere month or so after her emotional departure from the band. Welcome back Danielle! There’s no Jenna tonite, so her place is taken by Panther Girl Rowena, who looks splendidly Truffaut mod and does a mean job of singing ‘Can You Feel My Heart Beat’, so much so that the audience demands more from her. There isn’t any more though, instead there’s Simon singing “A song about someone every one of you has met.” Which is, of course, the glam-popilicious ‘Sweet Sister Delia’. We’ve all met Delia ‘cos she’s the door lady tonight, and if anyone deserves their own Loves song, it’s Delia, who is a superstar. The Loves end with a wiggy wig out cover of Os Mutantes' ‘Bat Macumba’, inviting the audience to join in. A bloke with startling hair clambers out of the front row and onto the stage to show off with percussion. Ramshackle!

Getting down with the old guard, the Twee As Fuck DJ is ransacking a selection of tunes provided by the olde days. We are thus greatly amused by the spinning of ‘The 18.10 To Yeovil Junction’ by Bubblegum Splash! Peggy of the Pains seems to appreciate it too, nodding along and grinning as she takes to the stage.

‘Fsssshhhhzzzzzzssssss’ The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have added a second guitarist to their mix and it sounds great, adding an extra wash of white noise and trebly fuzz. Yum! This does mean we can’t really hear Peggy’s keyboards, but we can see her smiling and shaking her hair and er, being hugged by a tired and emotional ‘friend’ from Brooklyn who keeps prancing onto the stage; presenting her with a lollipop, fiddling with the keyboards etc. At the end he trips over and nearly sits on Kip’s lovely Fender Jag. He seems like the kind of friend you laugh at indulgently through slightly gritted teeth.

The set is chocka with Pains delights - 'Come Saturday', 'The Tenure Itch', 'Everything With You' - no alarms and no surprises, just simple tunes that whiz through you in a sherbetty way. Good ‘cos that’s what we want to hear. Forthcoming single ‘103’ gets an outing, snapping along sounding pure pop breezy. As ever, my fave is ‘Young Adult Friction’, the melody flipping and swooning through the noise, although Kip appears to substitute the words ‘mouldy page’ for ‘lovely face’. Eww!

A thing I love about the Pains live is the incredibly thumpy drums that power it all along and make it nigh on impossible not to dance or at least stamp your feet happily. Drummer Kurt only plays a simple wee kit (the Fortuna Pop! house kit), but lordy he smacks those beats.

Even though the band could never be accused of exploring new sonic territory, and we’ve heard their sound a gazillion times before, there’s just something about The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart that hits right. This fzzzzzttt energy and ebullience that rises off them and means you can’t not adore them. Peggy cheerily announces that the Lexington is their fave place to play. Kip tells us all this is their first London gig. He means this time around but the kidz all cheer ‘cos he’s made it sound like they’re in on something special. (n.b. why not amuse yrself by checking poorly researched reviews elsewhere that repeat this first ever gig fallacy?)

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart know the power of brevity. Their songs burst out, make their point, make you thrilled and buzz off. Their sets last year hit about 20 minutes or so. This time round they’ve got a bit more of a grip on the reins, tunes not galloping quite so hard means they clock in 30 minutes of stage time. The crowd’s not having it though and demands not one, but two encores, the set topped off with ‘Teenager In Love’ which is, er, my least favourite Pains song. Oh well.

All this pales into insignificance however when we go downstairs and The Loves offer us slices of Bobby Grindrod’s birthday cake. Behold, it is a GIANT FRENCH FANCY! Now that’s art.

Plan B

Sob! Plan B, the only music magazine I deign to pay money for, is being sent to the big magazine rack in the sky. June will see its final issue hitting the shelves of selected emporia (including, bizarrely, our corner shop) and it’ll be the last time I feel genuinely excited about a magazine being published (I always got that same wee rush of anticipation when it was time for a new Plan B as I used to get when Smash Hits day came around).

I’ll add the final copy to my collection. I’ve got every issue, they look great all lined up on the shelf, their spines all solemn looking hiding the colour explosion inside. That’s the thing about Plan B, it’s a beautiful object as well as a good read, an exceedingly good argument for producing something in print, rather than online. It feels like a lot of love and care has gone into the creation of each issue. There’s always gorgeous photography - even accompanying the live reviews there are none of those crappy, what’s the point? shots of the singer with a mic obscuring their face, unlike in some magazines. The pages teem with brilliant illustrations; oddball images that halt you in your tracks and make you inspect them for a spell – you know, like decent art should. And isn’t it great that a music magazine should commission so much brand new illustration?

Granted, the articles and reviews sometimes left me wondering what the flip the artists being discussed actually, you know, sounded like, but it was always a dang good read. Always thoughtful and intelligent, the writing was a refuge for well-constructed sentences and lovingly honed prose amongst the maelstrom of poorly conceived fuck-wittering found elsewhere. Even the adverts were interesting: how else would I have discovered the terrifying trembling brilliance of Ben Nash’s ‘The Seventh Goodbye’ if I hadn’t been intrigued by Aurora Borealis Records’ slightly sinister ad?

At least it’s good to see the magazine going out on a high, not having compromised or capitulated, not slinking out on its belly in a horrifying state of degradation (e.g. Melody Maker). Thank you for the good times Plan B.

P.S. Everyone always said Plan B even smelled amazing! I never did understand that bit.

Monday 25 May 2009

The Lovely Eggs – If You Were Fruit (Cherryade)

You know when you’re pottering about innocently and you have to sing a ridiculous made-up song because it’s just appeared in your head and it would be uncomfortable not to? This is the joy of The Lovely Eggs, they seem to be singing and songing so freely, grabbing tunes and words and instruments at will as music comes exploding out.

Quite often, actual Lovely Eggs songs come into my head during these pottering moments, especially the song that introduced me to their odd-popping, story-book world, the fab ‘Have You Heard A Digital Accordion?’ heard here on their FIRST! album, a chuggy chug along Velvets / Jonathan Richman pop masterpiece.

And that’s not nearly the half of it. ‘If You Were Fruit’ is a crammed junkshop treasure trove of curious, charming, engaging tunes. These are songs about intriguing things that you want to hear about e.g. the problems involved in cooking for sharks, ‘We’re not at ease if we’re not cooking with cheese’ (‘Mices’). Or the title track which sweetly compares someone to types of fruit, “If you were a coconut then I’d wanna be your husk, I would protect you when you fell in the dust”.

This isn’t novelty pop, or ickily cutesy nonsense, this is exploring pop sounds in an interesting, offbeat manner using pleasing unconventional instrumentation. ‘Luna CafĂ©’ involves the excellent employment of a swanee whistle - it’s impossible to be grumpy to the sound of a swanee whistle. Holly sings in a girlish voice with northern vowels. Nice to hear a proper accent – that’s folk music, that.

They play acoustic ukulele stumalongs (‘Oh The Stars’); fuzzy, growly stomp-ups (‘I Like Birds…’); thumpy, noddy droney-drones (the fantastic ‘Big Red Car’ sung with big-hearted top of the voice joy); sweet Syd Barrett cycledelia, (‘Hey There Woodsman!’). ‘Sexual Cowboy’ is a glorious fizz-bomb with a see-sawing ‘Blister In The Sun’ tune; ‘Where’s My Animal’ nicks a bit off ‘I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus’ to gently lullaby by. Shimmery shiverer ‘The Best Moon This Side Of Town’ is a beaty ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ beauty.

Clockwork, tick tock, tippy tap, cuckoo kachoo, sing-song, stick in your head, tinkling, chiming, ringing, rattling, rustling, spoons tinging on teacups. The Lovely Eggs can be an energy burst explosion or delicate and affecting. Sometimes all in the same song.

Saturday 23 May 2009

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – 23 April 2009, Electric Ballroom

I’ve been having trouble getting ‘The Century Of Self’, the latest Trail Of Dead album, to stick. After a few attempts to force the overlong noise-pomp into my weary ears, I find it’s not something I need to go back to over and over again. This makes me sad, as time was I lurved Trail Of Dead. They was my faves, but I suppose it’s rare to still be loving a band six albums in. Times change.

The melancholy piano flourish that launched third album ‘Source Tags and Codes’ winds its languorous way from the stage to our heads. I’m clutching the crush barrier rail, feeling like an ambassador for indiepop in my bright green cardie amongst a sea of black. I feel a thrill of anticipation and actual excitement. It turns out that live, Trail Of Dead are still nosebleedingly good fun. The band are now Conrad, Jason, Kevin and three blokes. I don’t know who the blokes are, but they do a pretty good job of smashing out the songs. Exciting pop fact: Conrad is wearing a Pains Of Being Pure At Heart tee-shirt!

The new songs work well live, full of the pomp and fury of an unleashed Trail. ‘Far Pavillions’ is heavy, druggy psych-rock, ‘Isis Unveiled’ is rocket fuelled punk. There’s a clutch of olden songs; ‘Relative Ways’ (“It’s okay / I forgave / your mistakes…”), a ferocious, jolting ‘It Was There That I Saw You’, a rare outing for the sweetly yearning ‘Souce Tags and Codes’. The more recent ‘Will You Smile?’ (well it’s only from three albums back) is greeted like an old friend by the crowd and is bombastically, stompingly, glorious. ‘Caterwaul’ is thoroughly invigorating, and, as ever, it sees Jason going mentalz, throwing himself at the crowd and clambering onto the crush barrier to be adored (squishing me in the process). Having had a faceful of Reese t-shirt, I can confirm that it’s a very sweaty performance.
As the band ambles back for an encore, they japingly improvise their way around a ridiculous, made up on the spot, smoooth r’n’b song, Jason taking up the "Ooh baby" vocals much to our amusement. They're a right laugh, Trail Of Dead, you know. The encore is a three song stretch of old 'uns but good 'uns: ‘How Near How Far’ unfettered and triumphant, good old ‘Mistakes And Regrets’, its swirling, rumbling intro sending little thrills through the audience, and of course traditional set-closer ‘A Perfect Teenhood’. To finish, there's a minor bit of drum-kit destruction, kind of for old times sake (Conrad, surveying the mess, ‘This looks like Jason’s house the first time I visited’).

An unscheduled third encore happens when Jason decides he wants to ‘greet his public’ again. This involves the band lauching into a fast 'n' fiendish ‘Richterscale Madness’ whilst Jason creeps into the crowd to sinisterly intone the ‘kill, kill’ bit. Craning behind me to behold the mayhem emanating from Reese ground zero, my gaze is met by a sea of insanely gleeful faces. This is the Trail of Dead I remember; too clever for their own good and brilliant dumb fun.

Sunday 17 May 2009

A man who had read all the books published today…would be more stupid than a man who had read nothing. Fave Tunes March/April 2009

With Love From The SC Estate – Garden City Project Dreamily unfurling into Springtime

Corn Rigs and Maypole and Willow’s Song – Wicker Man Soundtrack Been playing this album a lot of late - salutin’ Spring a-comin’ in

Keep Your Head - The See See Swoonily sunny, spanglingly jangly West Coastisms right here in grubby London

Fallin’ - Wooden Shjips The mighty drone of the ‘Shjips gets all echoey–voiced cute ‘n’ wibbly

Big Red Car – The Lovely Eggs Rumble-de- thump drone-pop

Inconvenience - Super Furry Animals Top of the range SFA fuzz-boogie

Torvill and Dean - Help Stamp Out Loneliness A chorus that makes your insides flip

See Where Capella With Her Golden Kids - Caroline Weeks Sounds like it's leaking out of the ancient woodwork of an abandoned cottage deep in the forest

Omni Baron - Alexander Tucker Mesmeric chanty monk spooky loops.

Mountain Song - Super Furry Animals Alvin Stardust-tastic

‘You’ve seen the rap singers’ - Stewart Lee. Comedy as drone rock.

Monday 11 May 2009

A Classic Education single release party, 9 May 2009 - Jamboree

A shout out to Jamboree at Cable Street Studios, all cosy and home-made bohemian. Creep through the curtained doorway and into a dimly lampplit old garage space that’s been done up with car boot furniture, handy shelves of books in the corner and v. splendidly crafted ‘future events’ booklets scattered on the bar. I often think that gigs would be improved if I could have a nice sit down, (if there’s no dancing to be had, legs just get achey and seize up) but still be at the front, and that’s exactly what I get here. A comfy chair, a bottle of beer and an entertaining array of bands. And just a short bus ride from home. Aces!

My Sad Captains play a sweet set of their cheery twisty country-psych tinged pop. They sound summery and chirpy, jangly and wibbly. The girl on keyboards seems to have had a head transplant, or maybe it’s a new girlonkeyboards – like on Australian soaps when a regular character comes back played by a completely different actor and nobody passes comment.

Gossamer Albatross are all rather young and rather posh, which of course isn’t a crime, but keeps us amused. Best bit of their set is the singer offering up “Mega props to my Mum” a ha ha ha ha! I cackle with hilarity for the whole of the next song. The songs are quite pleasant sea-shanty, swirlish dramatic thingies with cello and double violin attack, snorting nostrils and flashing eyes, but they sound a bit, um, samey. Still, megaprops to my mum, ah ha ha! Also, the cellist might want to invest in a longer skirt. Or wear some trousers. Just saying.

Jeremy Warmsley, producer of A Classic Education’s new single and thus integral to tonight’s proceedings, plays a brief set of viciously strummed acoustic guitar and tricksy lyrics sung in a gulping, gliding voice. He asks for requests, we get Abba sung as a sob-hearted ballad.

A Classic Education thrilled us at Indietracks and manage the same trick tonight. Their songs sound like stormy nights with racing clouds, lamps shining in windows, dark trees silhouetted on hilltops. They play with an urgency that makes the songs seem like a matter of life and death, the violinist sweeping and swooping, the guitarist singing with hands either side of his mouth like he has to communicate across vast distances, it’s exciting if you let yourself get carried along. They also play a beguiling English language version of ‘Toi’ from the Italian film “Io la Conoscevo Bene” . Its lilting loungeyness fits the surroundings brilliantly. There are plenty more thrilling tunes to be had; fireworks bursts of euphoria on ‘Stay Son’, the fluttering swell of ‘Wartimes’, and the new single ‘Best Regards’ which hurtles along fuelled by frantic guitar, is made ornate by luscious keyboard and violin, then topped off with staccato handclaps - exhilaratingly turbulent pop. We’re sold and get ourselves a copy of the 7 inch on the way out - nice cover too.

Projekt A-ko – Yoyodyne (Milk Pie Records)

‘A-ko seems to be near invulnerable with superhuman speed and strength.’ (Wikipedia article on anime character Eiko Magami).

Urusei Yatsura – they were so FAB! So let’s all cheer for the existence of Projekt A-ko – three quarters of Urusei who are maintaining the anime theme and still applying themselves to the art of teasing out cheerily discombobulating noise from guitars and things. Shout hip hip! and give a big scrabbly guitar squawk of joy at the arrival of Projekt Ako’s album - only two thousand years in the making but worth the wait.

‘Yoyodyne’ sounds like the electromagnetic field flexing and flipping out there in the cosmos, whipping across the universe to land jittering in your head with a Space Dust pop explosion. It’s robots with cracked hearts. Skullz and flowers. Gleefully tuneful turmoil. A big thrill. Attack, attack, attack!

Listen carefully and you can catch the sound of static, fizzling and squealing, fading in from another galaxy, getting closer…tune in and explode into ‘Hey Palooka!’ take a nosebleed nosedive into thrillingly crunchy fuzzpop. A good start.

‘Nothing Works Twice’ will have you reminiscing about dancing like a goon to ‘Kewpies Like Watermelon’ (and that time Fergus jumped into the crowd after a heckler git). Then it’ll have you dancing like a goon. ‘Supertriste Duxelle’ is a discordant sunshine pop wail, My Bloody Valentine doing bubblegum thrash. ‘Molten Hearts’ runs amok, a rollercoaster hijack, kicking up sparks of feedback, demanding you sing along with a thrill in your heart and mad eyes. ‘Otaku Blue’ very cutely plays around with ‘Union City Blue’, but with more squealing and squalling than Blondie ever managed, and with a mighty thunderousness that wraps rainbows round your heart and squeezes. Hard.

This album is crammed with manic pop spills that make me feel all energetic and effervescent and overexcited. It’s an electricity overload, delicious noise textured like years and years worth of paint built up in multi-hued blistered layers.

And then you come across ‘Yoyodyne (Scintilla II)’, twinkling up at you hidden amongst the mass of electric cables and distortion pedals. It’s all gentle and lilting, with strings and ‘ba da las’. Fergus’ and Elaine’s voices sweet and sincere and leaving you a little bit bereft at the end. It wrong-foots you, but is so very right.

“Here comes Kitten she’s vaguely smitten” – ‘Black Empire’

Monday 4 May 2009

Je Suis Animal / Betty And The Werewolves / Hong Kong In The 60s – 24 April 2009, The Victoria

There are cupcakes on the door and Bobby McGees in the audience, which must mean we’re at Twee As Fuck. More importantly though, this gig is happening a short stroll from where we live – it’s genius! Je Suis Animal are in our ‘hood! We can look out the windows and see the familiar scummo streets but they’re sound-tracked by fantastical fairytale sounds.

First off, Hong Kong In The 60s cast soothing spells with a motley selection of keyboards. They offer up elegant swoons and toybox twists and play a smattering of songs from their debut E.P. ‘Willow Pattern Songs’ OUT SOON!! The tunes have delightful titles such as ‘Empty House, Lonely Mouse’, ‘The Organdy Snood’ and ‘Fox’s Wedding’. They swoosh and wash over us and are enchanting and wistful and twinkly and sumptuous.

Betty And The Werewolves are feeling a bit tipsy, thanks to drinking beer that ‘tastes like a cake’. The drummer has just vommed in the lavs, but he soldiers on anyway, battering away at the kit whilst the front of the stage is taken up by three smiling girls doing wee leaps and bounds and crunching out top tunes like the galloping ‘Tu Veux Jouer’ and new single ‘David Cassidy’ (old ‘Look-In’ annuals have got a lot to answer for). The music makes me think of The Rosehips being slightly less hardcore or maybe Bubblegum Splash! with added Girls In The Garage-ness. Fast, ramshackle, gleeful. Betty And The Werewolves seem to be about playing swingoriffic skiffley riffs, speeding through songs, jumping up and down, wearing ginchy frocks, hoooowwwwling like wolves and having a lot of fun. It’s nice to see a band enjoying themselves.

There’s a midnight curfew, so Je Suis Animal are playing against the clock – a slightly battered antique clock-face hanging on the wall above the stage, tocking down the minutes on big old roman numerals. This is appropriately story-bookish as Je Suis Animal sound like twisted nursery rhymes in haunted houses. They are here to launch their new single, ‘The Mystery Of Marie Roget’ – based on an Edgar Allen Poe tale. It’s a catchy wee number – tootling and fluttering around inside my head all day. Je Suis Animal are tuneful buggers in general – listen to the super soaring Lush-ness of ‘Painted In My Face’ or the chiming swallow-diving ‘Sparkle Spit’. Quickly now, because the songs are ricocheting past at a fair old lick. Look, there goes a twinkle-pop curiosity in the form of a cover of Joe Meek’s ‘Hobbies’. In their attempt to cram everything in before we all turn into pumpkins, Je Suis Animal’s set ends up sounding a tad perfunctory tonight. They’re still great, just not as wooshingly epic and cinemascopic as they can be.