Sunday 20 September 2009

The Smittens / Just Joans split and Secret Charisma mini musical (WeePOP!)

WeePOP! is an indiepop label with a cute ‘n’ craftsy aesthetic. Their releases are limited edition, hand-made and sweetly packaged; desirable visually as well as aurally. Look at their web site:

WeePOP! artwork regularly features cartoon characters with big shiny eyes looking like they’re insanely loved up on POP! The Smittens look a lot like these cartoon characters, smiley and wide eyed. Hearing them play a cover of The Just Joans’ ‘What Do We Do Now?’ (as featured on the two bands’ split single) is kind of odd but charming. In The Just Joans’ hands (and accents) this is a poignant parochial tale, using language that’s pretty specific to being Scottish. Hearing the twinkly, very American Smittens (jaunty piano and tambourine, beautifully layered harmonies that tug at your heart as the song builds) singing about ‘Buckfast bottles and rain’ and ‘drinking down the local’ sounds cutely peculiar, and kind of like their shininess has been slightly soiled. Hurriedly setting the world back on its axis, The Smittens then play their own upbeat, smile-pop song, ‘Summer Sunshine’ full of ‘ba ba bas’, ‘making friends’ and ‘little mixtapes’. Sweeties.

On the other hand, The Just Joans stain The Smittens’ ‘Gin and Platonic’ (do you see how this works?) with a mournful, sea-shanty-ish, late night beery tears in the pub wooziness, topping it up with some neatly inserted samples of dialogue from ‘Abigail’s Party’. They carry on the Caledonian moodiness (Arab Strap with an accordion) with their own track, the rheumy-eyed, ‘I Hear You’re The Man Now, John’. It sways and staggers bitterly and ends with the words ‘what a terrible mess I’ve made of my life’. Good work all round.

I’m not really one for musicals, the only one I’ve ever properly enjoyed was that all-singing episode of ‘Buffy’. Full marks though to Brad San Martin from One Happy Island (with help from some friends) for ‘Secret Charisma’ his ‘fourteen minute lo-fi headphone opera’. Nice to see a little innovation being introduced into the world of indiepop. This three inch CD comes complete with neatly printed libretto (if you will), so you can read along as the teeny tiny disc spins and unravels an indiepop take on those archetypal American indie film themes: small towns and homecomings, rootling through old emotions, awkward awakenings, etc. Despite, or maybe because of, the lo-fi, bedroom drama group nature of the project, there’s some neat instrumentation here: slide guitar, violin and trumpet, a Wurlitzer, skiffly strumming, handclaps and cute tootling on a penny whistle.
Next up: indiepop arias.

Saturday 5 September 2009

Golden Animals / She Keeps Bees / The Silver Abduction - 21 August 2009, Wilmington Arms

For the duration of The Silver Abduction's set a sense of otherworldliness settles upon the prosaic surrounds of The Wilmington Arms. The songs are melodic and charming but have an undercurrent of displacement, uneasiness.

The Silver Abduction are Allison, once of The Eighteenth Day Of May, with Andy Dragazis, one-time producer of EDOM, but these are not the psych-folk sounds of old. The Silver Abduction deal in noir-ish, movie-toned music. They provide an opportunity for Allison to act out her screen siren fantasies, which she does brilliantly. With her fifties-style nipped-in dress and blonde waves she’s an alluring stage presence, her mellifluous, pristine voice a focal point for the music. As she sings, her hands flutter by her sides, or caress the air, maybe plucking at a phantom dulcimer. It’s all very reminiscent of Julee Cruise performing in those bewitching ‘Twin Peaks’ bar scenes. At once soothing and unsettling.

The band play six songs, all quite different. There are a couple of vintage numbers providing the most torch-y moments. Other songs are harder, driven by Dragazis’ fluid, melodic guitar, but it’s always Allison’s voice that pulls you in, sweetly seductive.

She Keeps Bees and Golden Animals are whole other kettles of fish. Where The Silver Abduction have brought an air of faded glamour, these bands are a far grubbier proposition.

She Keeps Bees is the work of Jessica Larrabee aided by drummer Andy LaPlant. They take to the stage in a flurry, Jessica telling us how last night’s Leicester audience were shocked by her swearing, before hitching up her braces ("Rock 'n' Roll is awesome!") and cranking out raw, visceral blues conducted around a clatter of voice, guitar and drums.

A song is sung a capella; cracked, keening voice sailing out into the audience, spearing those rude enough to carry on chatting as if there wasn’t someone singing their heart out directly in front of their noses. It’s a short set and the audience demands satisfaction, so because they’ve said "please", She Keeps Bees belt out one more song for the crowd, ferocious and buzzing.

Golden Animals have brought their own rug with them which they drape over the monitors to add their own hippy down home touch to the stage. Glitter-dusted faces half hidden by masses of hair, they look excellent – check out the great photos on their Myspace – bell bottoms and ancient runes, tassels and paisley. They look like they sound...murky psychedelia with a fuzzrock snarl, slithering swamp blues with desert sky harmonies. And their record is called ‘Free Your Mind And Win A Pony’. Good work.

Drummer Linda looks like Joni Mitchell x Sissy Spacek and finishes each song with an incredibly elegant flourish of her long wrists. On record, her backing vocals to Tommy’s wailed, growled songs are spooky and sublime, but live they’re somewhat drowned out by the full-on crunching attack of Tommy’s VERY LOUD guitar. A couple of girls dance in a corner, pulling those jittery, arm-wavey moves you see maxi-skirted chicks doing on 1970s episodes of TOTP. It adds to the general air of freak-out happening very nicely.

Say Yes! - The Hi-Life Companion (Plastilina Records)

“Just say yes…” sing The Hi-Life Companion, sounding sinister and cult-ish and tempting, “Forget the rest…”

This is a spanking good pop record and the perfect accompaniment to a sunny Saturday morning train ride, an interesting collection of songs that feels like a lot of love and care has gone into its creation. The Hi-Life Companion are no one-trick ponies, cantering from the pastoral to the urban, from swooning to crunching, soothing to (a little bit) menacing. And always with plenty of tunes. ‘Say Yes!’ is a picnic basket packed with good things. Oh so many good things. Sweeping, spangling, crammed with sounds: twangy, jangly fizzy guitars, spingly glockenspiel (maybe even more than one at once!), violins and trumpets, ha ha harmonies – a cornucopia that spills out when you lift the lid. Yes, I do really like it, thanks.

Album opener ‘The Hi-Life Theme’ (always good to have a band theme tune, eh?) shows the band’s folkier side, all strummy and wistful – an English countryside summer, high skies and fields stretching forever (I may be influenced by the view from the train window here). A bit reminiscent of The Garden City Project.

‘Times Table’ is a top tune straight off the block, harmonies and handclaps and twinkly chimes, before ooh! The band break out the brass for ‘Night Comes Down’. ‘One Man Town’ eschews the summery fun. It’s an adrenalized whirr that buzzes along on big guitars. Motorik-licious!

Other sounds you’ll hear here: sleepy-eyed slide guitar; spooky Barretty psychedelia that swishes oceanically; fuzzy, urgent ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ “Ooh, oohs”; snarly piano spanking. A song called ‘The Girl In The Gorilla Suit’.

The album ends with The Hi-Life Companion’s piece de resistance, ‘In Your Heart, A Cathedral’, filmic and expansive (eight minutes!), slowly spiralling sky-high around a central riff, carried by heart-tugging brass. A gorgeous contemplative close.

Wednesday 2 September 2009


The fab Tatty Devine Indietracks merch - aaahhhh! A match made in heaven.

Fave moments from Indietracks? ...ooh all of them. But also:

Sitting on the grass under sunny blue skies waving to smiling children riding past on the little train, soundtracked by Sucrette's whizzy two-songs-at-once hyper-pop;

Walking into the Indoor Stage shed as Mighty Mighty are playing 'Maisonette';

Little My with their lolloping pop, unco-ordinated percussion dances, feral headgear and added Liz Love;

The crowd's frantic dancing to the pouting cheekbone-tastic Cats On Fire who sound like Aha 'wrestling' The Smiths until they play a splendid version of White Town's 'Your Woman';

Wake The President - cute (if a tad grumpy) Scottish twins playing jangling guitars in the gloaming of the church as the sun goes down;

Patiently riding up and down the track on the steam train on Sunday morning, eating Sherbert dibdabs and wondering if The Manhattan Love Suicides are gonna show, as we've heard rumours...then being pinned to the wall of the carriage when the entire festval squeezes in to hear the Manhattan's split announcement. Then being soothed by the surprisingly touching acoustical tunes brought to us by ex-Manhattans, The Medusa Snare as the train chuffs along with us all sardined in;

Scoffing veggie hotdogs in the rain with our chums Hong Kong In The 60s;

Nick Garrie accompanied by a choir of children (and Duglas BMX) providing a sweet soundtrack for any children of the zone who like me, are missing their weekly Sunday afternoon dose of Stuart Maconie's Freakzone...

And then all these things that I thought I'd draw about instead...

Indietracks Snapshots: Tender Trap

Tender Trap play 'Oh Katrina'

Indietracks Snapshots: Fortuna Pop!

Sean Fortuna Pop! gives a talk in the Workshop Wigwam entitled 'How Not To Run A Record Label'.

A crowd of acolytes gathers round and listens with deep reverence. People who had ventured in hoping to heckle have to slink out again and look for kicks elsewhere.

Indietracks Snapshots: Pop Church

The Church
I want to go to a festival that's just in this church. It's very cosy in there nipping vodka amidst the wood panelling, fuzzy light filtering through the arched windows. Could do with some cushions on the pews though.

Indietracks Snapshots: Alaska

Everyone in the world is watching Camera Obscura on the outdoor stage.

We go into the church and find Alaska playing McCarthy's 'Red Sleeping Beauty'. It's always good to happen upon this song.

Indietracks Snapshots: The Specific Heats

The Specific Heats wear paisley capes!

Their reverb tank blows up as they hit the first chord!! Then a guitar string breaks!!! They play bubblegum garage which has been specially calibrated to be the best music at the entire festival!!!!
It is VERY EXCITING. Other things: silver sparkly Danelectro guitar, v. groovy shaky hair keyboard playing, all round band smiling, an Out Crowd tattoo, managing to be very energetic in a very small space, including running in tiny circles, their friends behind us saying how everything is AWESOME!

Indietracks Snapshots: The Lovely Eggs

Every magical moment of The Lovely Eggs set.

Including their tribute to 'Nuts In May'; Holly's buttercup yellow dress; the tiny bicycle handlebars attached to the front of the drumkit (the bell and horn for percussion purposes); useful information on peppers, loads of thrashy, twinkly, shouty, silky songs; and especially Holly's wool-wrapped drum beater unravelling like unruly spaghetti. They are the best kind of folk art.

Indietracks Snapshots: I Wear My New Anorak...

...a Fred Perry anorak, mind. It's fine tailoring is much admired by Emily out of Betty And The Werewolves.

Indietracks Snapshots: Marshmallow Kisses

The Marshmallow Kisses ask the very Indietracks question, 'Do you guys like poems?'

After a little encouragement, the reply is a big Indietracks, 'Yeah!' The band then proceed to play amazing outer-space wibbling baroque fairground poetry jazzpop.

Indietracks Snapshots: Help Stamp Out Loneliness

Help Stamp Out Loneliness sound huge and POP! on a rainy afternoon.

They feature not only the Sounds XP fashion correspondent's favourite frock, but also Craig Gannon playing some guitar. This makes us go, 'Blimey! It's THE Craig Gannon!'

Indietracks Snapshots: Simon Love's Feet

Sunday afternoon in the gloom of the Indoor Stage shed something bright catches my eye.

Simon Love isn't wearing any socks. This makes me gasp in horror, 'Are those your feet? Why are they so white?!'

Indietracks Snapshots: BMX Bandits

Duglas' Sesame Street t-shirt, purple pinstripes, flowin' locks 'n' moustache combo make him look every bit the pop maverick he is.

To celebrate I dance like a loon to 'E102' at the end of a set chocka with BMX Bandits hits.

Teenage Fanclub

Under darkening rain-filled skies I fall in love with Teenage Fanclub again.

There are singalonga old songs, must-get-the-new-album new songs, and the world turns into sparkles when they play 'I Need Direction'. Sigh...