The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'indiepop'
It is an early afternoon during the Easter bank holiday weekend, at an indiepop weekender at an art venue in Cardiff. A band is playing on stage, fuzzy guitar lines, drums and female vocals mixing together. The audience, or those who have arrived early, are standing and watching; they tend to be in their mid-30s and older; women wear hair slides and floral/polka-dot dresses, while the Mod Dad look, with Fred Perry polo shirts, short hair and sideburns, is popular among the menfolk. In front of the stage, what might have once been the mosh pit is now a children's play area, replete with LED-illuminated balloons. about four or five young children run around, squealing and bouncing the balloons. Wearing ear protectors, they appear to be unaware of the grown-ups on the stage holding guitars, the relationship between them doing this and the sound coming out of the speakers, or that there would be any reason to not run around in front of the stage. The concept of a “gig” seems to be alien to them. Elsewhere, smaller children bop gently up and down in time to the music in their mothers' hands, animated by parental enthusiasm; they gawp bewilderedly, their faces showing only undifferentiated emotion. The squawls of babies fill the gaps between songs and add a novel accompaniment to the jangly melodies. Occasionally, a musty odour fills the air and a balding guy in a faded Milky Wimpshake T-shirt leaves hurriedly, carrying a discomforted-looking infant to a baby-changing area.
Once upon a time, pop/rock/alternative music consumption was strictly for teenagers; you got into it when the adolescence hormones hit your bloodstream and you needed something that was yours and not your parents', spent a few years spending your pocket money on 7" records and dressing in a way your grown-up self might later find as embarrassing as your parents did at the time, and dropped it just as quickly when you Grew Up, got a job, married and had kids of your own and were saddled with the burden of adult responsibilities which you would carry unto the grave. Gradually the boundaries got pushed back, and a whole market of “adult-oriented rock” emerged; engineered to soothe the nerves of stressed Responsible Adults whilst providing them with just enough of a hit of what excited their younger selves a quarter-century earlier, it tended to a sort of soaring, platitudinal blandness; a weak substitute for what had been forfeited. Though over the past few decades, the idea that one must check one's musical/subcultural identity at the door of adulthood has been eroded even further. The pioneers may well have been the Goths, who stubbornly refused to Grow Out Of It well into middle age and beyond; though soon, the commodification of cool into cultural capital opened the doors further, until soon we had shops in trendy areas selling Ramones baby clothes and lullaby renditions of The Cure and Nirvana, and bands classified, back-handedly, as “dad-rock” or “dad-house”. This isn't completely universal—after all, supermarkets flog millions of records by the likes of Coldplay and Ed Sheeran for people who either never were into music or else vaguely remember what it felt like but have no desire to regress to that phase of their lives—but one no longer has to be a fringe-dwelling bohemian to remain particular about music
Of all the genres and subcultures, though, the indiepop scene seems to have become uniquely small-child-inclusive. As a critical mass of indiepop kids hit middle age and have kids of their own, they are more likely to bring them, en masse, to gigs and festivals, and adapt the events themselves for the kids; songs with rude words are dropped or bowdlerised, balloons are provided, and the gig becomes a mass playdate first, and a musical performance only tangentially to this. Flocks of toddlers run around, yelping and shouting gleefully, and it is seen to be their right to do so; anybody who objects to this getting in the way of their enjoyment of the music may as well be a fascist or a Tory or something equally unspeakable. The music's almost just a side product for the parents' benefit. Elsewhere, there are indiepop baby discos, acclimatising young ears to Belle & Sebastian and Allo Darlin' from an early age. Perhaps, elsewhere, there are pint-sized punks pogoing anarchically to toddler-friendly renditions of Anarchy In The UK, baby discos spinning gnarly brostep, or black-clad toddlers running around like swarms of ground-hugging bats at the Whitby Gothic Weekend, but such possibilities notwithstanding, this seems to be peculiar to indiepop. There are no boisterous toddlers at, say, shoegaze, psych or post-rock gigs; other festivals may have a few small children in attendance, but they are fewer in number, and where special provision has been made for them, it is away from the stages.
Why indiepop has, upon its members' parenthood, shifted wholesale into a toddler-friendly environment is not certain. Perhaps it's a natural outgrowth of the “twee” signifier, which originated in the 1980s as a rejection of the hypermasculinity of hardcore and/or post-punk rock, instead embracing, with varying degrees of irony, the signifiers of childhood. Much in the way that things that start as ironic appropriations often end up shedding the irony and continuing with some degree of sincerity (as seen, for example, with the “ironic” sexism of 1990s “lad” magazines), a scene whose zines and button badges copied old children's books might transform from a subculture questioning the inherent conservatism in the childish/mature dichotomy to a subculture tailor-made for small children and their parents.
It'll be interesting to see whether the toddlerification of indiepop changes the subject matter of it more than removing the word “fuck” from lyrics. Thematically, indiepop songs do tend to hover around adolescence and its long decay envelope, with themes of crushes, break-ups and being in or out of love cropping up disproportionately often. These days, this is even more so than in, say, the C86 days, as “twee” became stylised and codified into a somewhat excessively fey, cupcakey aesthetic, and some of the oddness of 1980s-vintage indie has been replaced by chaste adolescent romance like a plot from an Archie comic soundtracked by vintage Motown girl groups. Perhaps as the under-5 demographic at indiepop gigs swells, these themes will be displaced to some extent by songs about dinosaurs, monkeys, pirates, rocket ships, monkeys who are rocket-ship pirates, poop and other things more likely to appeal to actual small children.
Secondly, it will be interesting to see what a generation of kids who were brought up listening to twee pop from birth end up doing when adolescence, and the need to individuate themselves, hits them.
Backseat Mafia, a music blog from Sheffield, has an interview with Clare Wadd about Sarah Records:
I hate the term twee, loathe it. I think there was a lot of sexism in the abuse we got from the music press, we were girlie we were fey, we were twee, they were all bad things, but they’re feminine rather than masculine things. Most indie labels still are and were then run by men, I was co-running as an equal, we were called Sarah, & that was all a reason to put us down. Quiet concerning really. That said, I hate all the childishness side of twee that a few people embraced, I always wanted to be a grown up, felt required to be a grown up, I’m not a fan of escapism.
‘We don’t do encores’ your press statement said on ‘a day for destroying things’. does a little part of you, if only occasionally, think well……maybe if….
Not really, not now. It was weird at first, and someone said to me soon after “… didn’t you used to be…?”, but it’s 17 years since we stopped, I’m 45. One of the things I thought was good (although in some ways I guess it was bad) was that we were kids the same age as the bands, give or take, in that sense we could never be a proper record label.
It’s disappointing that nothing much seems to have changed, particularly with regard to feminism and the preponderance of bands or labels still to think the main role of women is decoration – a cool sixties chick on the sleeve or poster, some nice female backing vocal – and to fail to question what they’re doing and why. We tried to run the label we would have wanted to be consumers of, so we didn’t do limited editions or extra tracks or things designed to get people to buy the same record several times over, there’s a degree of respect for the audience and the fan that was completely lacking through a lot of the eighties and nineties – they were the little people essentially, and that’s a very Tory attitude.Previously:
A Parisian outfit named Rectangle Radio has an interview with Clare Wadd of Sarah Records, in the form of a podcast, in which she discusses the label's origins, history, end and legacy.
It was totally plucked out of the air; I guess you look back and I guess it was just on that cusp of, kind of.. lad rock, that whole kind of grebo thing, that then became the 90s Loaded thing; that's probably unfair on some of the grebo bands, but it was almost which side of the fence are you on. And record labels were run by boys as well, so I guess we were making a point about that. I ws reading “Emma” by Jane Austen at the time, so it kind of came from if a book can be called Emma then a record label can be called Sarah. It was never meant to be Sarah Records, it was just meant to be Sarah, but that was too difficult.
I think in a way, though, the thing I'm most proud of ... is the way we ended the label when we did and the reasons for doing it. One of the things that drives me absolutely crazy is when people think we went bust, or something like that. We always felt that there were about three or four ways to end a record label. One's to go bust, which happens reasonably often; two is to start putting out crap records and everyone stops buying them and you just kind of dwindle away. You could sell out to a bigger record label. We didn't want to do any of those. And then there's just getting to a nice round number ... throwing a big party, and taking out some ads in the press and saying, you know, we're basically destroying it. That I'm just so pleased we did, even though it was so hard to do.Whilst derided, somewhat though perhaps not entirely unfairly, as twee at the time, and not getting much recognition in histories of alternative/indie music (Sarah Records is mentioned in a footnote in Richard King's alternative-music history “How Soon Is Now”, in reference to being even more idealistic and out of touch with commercial realities than the labels the book's about), Sarah seems to be finally getting its due, with a book about the label (by Canadian writer Michael White) due this year and a documentary in production.
Sarah Records as a label is gone, and definitely not coming back, but the name exists on Twitter; Clare uses it to post music-related items.
Dr. Amelia Fletcher, Chief Economist at the Office of Fair Trade and possibly the world's most high-achieving active indiepop musician, has just been appointed Professor of Competition Policy at the University of East Anglia. This is about three months after her former Talulah Gosh bandmate Elizabeth Price won the Turner Prize.
This year's Turner Prize has been awarded to video artist Elizabeth Price for her work The Woolworths Choir of 1979, a hypnotic video mixing footage of 1960s girl group The Shangri-Las performing with news footage of a fire in a Woolworths department store. If Price's name sounds familiar, it's because she was in 1980s Sarah Records indiepop band Talulah Gosh. (And, indeed, she is by no means the only Talulah Gosh alumnus to have a notable subsequent career; the band also boasts a senior government economist and an Oxford University Press commissioning editor.
Other contestants for the prize were visual artist Paul Noble, who had been nominated for a series of detailed pencil drawings of a fantastic metropolis named Nobson Newtown, filmmaker Luke Fowler, whose entry was a documentary on controversial Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, titled All Divided Selves, and the splendidly named Spartacus Chetwynd, a performance artist.
This past weekend, I went to the London edition of the Chickfactor indiepop zine's 20th anniversary gigs. The zine was founded in 1992 by two American girls, Pam Berry and Gail O'Hara, and whilst its printed output has tapered off somewhat (though issue #17, now funded through Kickstarter, is coming out soon), has continued as a website. Consequently, they've been organising commemorative gigs throughout this year. Earlier this year, I had flown to New York to attend the Brooklyn gigs they organised, largely because it was quite possibly my only chance to ever see The Softies play live (and it was worth it and then some, but that's another post). Anyway, Chickfactor had for a long time had a connection to London; having been founded by American indiepop kids, a subculture with an inherent Anglophilic streak (often coloured by a stylised, mildly anachronistic swinging-60s aesthetic; witness the summer dresses and severe Mary Quant bobs favoured by girls in the scene). One of the founders, Pam Berry (also of Black Tambourine) married an Englishman and ended up in London, while the other, Gail O'Hara, spent some time living in London in the early 2000s, and had a weekend festival, Mon Gala Papillons, at Bush Hall in 2004 (one of whose nights I ended up attending). So a London festival was only a matter of time.
I didn't go to the film screening (of Take Three Girls, the documentary about post-punk girl band Dolly Mixture, which I had seen before) on Friday, largely because I had already bought a ticket to the Rodriguez gig at the Roundhouse (which was great, incidentally). I went to the Saturday evening gig (back at Bush Hall, around the corner from where I used to live, but inconveniently far from everywhere else), and to the Sunday afternoon/evening gig, which was held at that haunt of London indiekids of a certain age, the Lexington.
Saturday's gig started off with Amor de Días, Lupe from Pipas' new project with her partner, Alasdair from The Clientele. It was as one might imagine; more languid and dreamy than the indiepop of Pipas, and redolent of the psychedelic folk of the Sixeventies in its languor. They were followed by the Would-Be-Goods, a band started by the teenaged Jessica Griffin in 1987, launched with a mildly saucy song about modelling for the photographer Cecil Beaton, which they followed with some highly literate pop songs. The Would-Be-Goods have kept to the jangly indiepop formula for the most part, though have matured somewhat in their themes; whilst some songs are set in the language of youthful friendships and crushes that is the idiom of indiepop (Temporary Best Friend, for example), others anticipate old age and its miseries (Too Old, for example, a song which sits next to Platinum by their fellow él Records alumnus Momus in the canon of starkly, heartrendingly beautiful meditations on the passing of time and all of its crimes). Shortly after the Would-Be-Goods' set finished, the room started to pack out in anticipation of The Aislers Set. They did not disappoint; they tore the roof off the place, much as they had done in Brooklyn. The evening was rounded off nicely with The Pastels, who played a mostly mellow set.
Sunday started with The Starfolk, a husband and wife duo from the US, who played a guitar-driven pop. They were followed by Harvey Williams and Josh Gennet (who had been in a band named Holiday in the US), who played a selection of songs (mostly Harvey's, with some of Josh's and some covers of female singer-songwriters; their version of Broadcast's “Colour Me In” was lovely). Harvey hadn't been busy at work on new material, though had one recent song (“Quiet Domesticity”, a paean to staying at home) and had updated The Girl From The East Tower with a verse about the aforementioned girl losing her job (which turned out to have been at the BBC, where Harvey also works) due to not willing to relocate to Salford. The Real Tuesday Weld played a set a bit later, and had morphed into a more swing style in the years between their initial dealings with Chickfactor and now. They were followed by Pipas; it was great to see them. They had a new song, The Occasion, which they débuted at the Chickfactor 2012 US dates, though it has evolved slightly since. The night was rounded off with Tender Trap, Amelia Fletcher's band, who rocked harder than I expected; stand-up drums, skronky guitars and female vocal harmonies, backing vocals themed with the old youthful themes of boyfriends and girlfriends and such; Amelia seems to do such pop better than the more grown-up themes and mellow sounds of her previous Tender Trap albums.
One thing that was inescapable at the Chickfactor gig was a sense of the passage of time. It was the 20th anniversary of a zine from the golden age of zines (after desktop publishing made them cheap and quick, but before the internet made them redundant as a means of communication) and arguably of a certain type of indiepop, and many of those who were involved back in the day are approaching or well into middle age, often with children. (The drink coasters printed for the US dates read “doing it in spite of the kids”.) It was interesting to see how the indie kids of yesteryear squared their love of and identification with an intrinsically youthful genre with their age and adult roles in life. Harvey Williams wrote a song, with the dry wit familiar to those who remember Another Sunny Day and his solo album on Shinkansen, about the mild joys of not going out (a contrarian stance which parallels the anti-machismo of his youthful work, along with that of his Sarah Records peers). Jessica Griffin, who (whilst presumably still in her 30s) wrote a sad song about the ravages of aging, doesn't expect to be still doing this sort of thing in ten years' time, while Amelia Fletcher has taken the opposite route, embracing the formalism of indiepop as ballads of youth in the vinyl record age (her band's previous album was titled Dansette Dansette, after a 1960s-vintage record player), can see herself singing songs about boyfriends and girlfriends (and, presumably, the ideal boyfriend's record collection) when she's 80.
Anyway, photos are being posted to the usual place. I managed to get some video with my iPhone, which has been collected here. Check back here in some 10 years' time for reportage from the Chickfactor 30th.
It was pretty formulaic; I’d pretty much write a song and then take it to Jen, and then we’d write her guitar part and harmony together. We’d never collaborate lyrically. One person would write, and so it was never super collaborative, but that extra guitar brought so much. Sometimes we’d actually write Jen’s part note by note by note. Like, I would point to the fret board and say, “That one!” because there was one specific note that I wanted to hear right at that time. Sometimes it took a while, because the parts were quite complicated and weird, seeing as they were just a series of notes. But I love her sense of humor about it. I know how difficult it must have been for her to deal with me trying to get these specific notes, so I appreciate that she can laugh about it now.
During the beginning of the Softies, our rule was that if we couldn’t recreate it live, we didn’t do it on the record. I hate the production end of songs, and a lot of what I do is more accidental. On the last Softies record [Holiday in Rhode Island (KLP119)], we made a conscious decision to add more things, but it was really just for fun. That continued with my solo stuff, but still I really just want the songs to be recorded.Rose mentions that, while she has been playing instruments in other people's bands recently, she is still writing songs, and hints at new Softies material. She and Jen recently played the first Softies gigs in 12 years at the Chickfactor 20th anniversary shows in the US (subtitle: “Doing It In Spite Of The Kids”), and said that they enjoyed playing together again so much that they are thinking of writing and recording more songs together.
The Hummingbirds, arguably the greatest Australian indiepop band of the 1990s, are reforming for a one-off set at Sydney's Big Day Out on the 27th of January. Well, so far it's a one-off set; perhaps they'll do some other Australian shows. I imagine that them playing Indie Tracks or the Gothenburg Popfest would be a bit of a stretch, though.
Meanwhile, Mess+Noise also has a two-part retrospective on the Punter's Club, the legendary Fitzroy music venue which closed its doors in 2002 (1, 2), interviewing many of the people involved, who went on to work in other Melbourne live music institutions.
The Punters Club closing was so final, though. We knew it was going to happen and that another business was going to move into the building, so it couldn’t be saved. It might have indirectly inspired the SLAM rally and all the outrage about The Tote, because it proved that people actually give a shit about music venues closing. I actually think The Punters Club was more loved than The Tote, but over the years, people came to realise that they didn’t want to lose another venue.
In hindsight it’s sad, and we miss that venue, but Brunswick Street really sucks these days anyway. I’m pleased that I don’t have to go and see gigs in that area anymore. Johnston Street and The Old Bar is about as close as I want to get. I don’t want to be with all the hipsters there. It’s like the gentrification of St Kilda. I remember when Brunswick Street only had three or four cafes: Bakers, Rhumbarella’s, Mario’s and The Fitz. That said, Melbourne has an extremely strong live music scene, so for every venue that closes, a new one opens somewhere.This weekend, for those in Melbourne, there is a series of Punter's Club reunion shows at the Corner Hotel in Richmond.
The spectre of closure, usually driven by gentrification and the increased rents coming from it, is seldom far away from live music venues; recently, Melbourne's favoured ex-neo-Nazi haunt turned band venue, Birmingham Hotel ceased putting on gigs, due to it losing money. Meanwhile, in London, increasing costs have forced the Luminaire to close at the end of the year. The Luminaire was one of London's better medium-sized venues; it will be fondly remembered, particularly the hand-painted signs on the walls informing punters in no uncertain terms that it is a music venue not a pub, and instructing those who wish to talk to their mates to leave.
There's a documentary in production titled "My Secret World: The Story of Sarah Records", giving an account of the legendary indie-pop label and including interview footage filmed at the Indie Tracks festival this year. Anyway, there's a teaser/trailer for it here:
Mess+Noise has an interesting interview with Bart Cummings, songwriter for classic 1990s indiepop bands such as The Cat's Miaow and The Shapiros, now working as a librarian in Ballarat (a provincial city an hour or two out of Melbourne; think, I don't know, Northampton or somewhere) and recently having released an EP, involving collaborations with the likes of Mark and Louis of the Lucksmiths and Pam Berry (of The Shapiros/Black Tamborine/Chickfactor zine), under the name Bart And Friends.
The last couple of years remind me of the early ’90s a lot, not just in the networking but the music as well.
A lot of that era’s sound has been coming back, thanks to bands like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. And Black Tambourine recently got a reissue.
Yeah, it’s funny. I emailed [Black Tambourine singer] Pam [Berry] about 18 months ago and said, “You know everyone’s dropping your name?” She [had no idea]. She’s in the situation as me: she’s got kids the same age and doesn’t go out that much.
BBC Radio 4 has a series featuring former teenaged rock musician turned New Labour home secretary Alan Johnson reminiscing about the rock career he never had; in the most recent episode, he interviews Amelia Fletcher, frontwoman of a number of indiepop bands from Tallulah Gosh onward and Chief Economist at the Office of Fair Trading (which came under his portfolio when he was in government), about combining music, a day job and parenthood, and how the international pop underground worked before the internet. (The stream is available for four more days only, and may or may not be available outside of the UK; apologies if it's not.)
Iran: possibly the only place where twee pop is a dangerously subversive underground movement:
Their ambition for next year, once they find a drummer, is to get on to the bill at Glastonbury or Reading. The difference is that Take It Easy Hospital originally formed in Iran, where rock music is banned. When the local music industry is non-existent, gigs and recording studios are regularly raided by police and even MySpace is monitored, simply finding someone who shares your love of guitars and plaintive vocals is fraught with difficulties.
If they'd grown up in England, Take It Easy Hospital's wan, organ-driven indie-pop, topped with earnest observations about the "human jungle", might stand accused of being a little bit twee. But once you learn how hard Ash and Negar have had to fight just to get their songs heard, they take on a whole new complexion. And despite their ugly experiences in Iran, they are determined not to make rebel rock. "Me, I don't care about politics," says Negar. "The value of art is a lot more than politics. Politics is something that passes, but art stays for years."Take It Easy Hospital's story is recounted in the film No One Knows About Persian Cats, opening soon.
Swedish indiepop big band I'm From Barcelona have created a new triple album; well, sort of. Titled, simply, 27 Songs from Barcelona, it consists of 27 songs, one written and sung by each of the band's 27 members. From today, the entire album is being made available as a series of daily MP3 downloads on their website; the first track, Daniel Lindlöf's Lower My Head, is a guitar-driven pop song with leanings towards shoegazing, and may be found here. The entire album is available for purchase on triple vinyl from here.
Rough Trade are releasing another indiepop compilation. Unlike the previous one, this one is not so much C86/Sarah/Postcard classics as music from the recent wave of indiepop. It's predominantly Swedish and British, though the recent wave of neo-C86 bands from New York (has anyone called this NYC86 yet?) is represented, as are bands from further afield (the Philippines' contribution is the excellent Moscow Olympics).
(Oddly enough, there is no Antipodean presence there; would it have killed them to put a Motifs song in?)
The compilation is comes out on the 9th of November; you can pre-order it here.
The Fire Escape Talking blog, part of the indiepop/twee subculture, interviews Phil Wilson (of the June Brides) about the peculiar phenomenon of former indiepop musicians ending up in the civil service:
When I explained, almost none of them had ever heard of the June Brides (or even indie music). Although, having said that, I met my wife at our office and she had seen me play live years before, without realising that I was that same chap. Also, Tim Vass (the Razorcuts) and Mick Thackray (The Legend's brother and ex Swinging Soul Sister!) worked at The Treasury at the same time as me...It's a small indiepop world.
You were advising on tax policy for Customs and Amelia Fletcher is now Senior Director of Mergers at the OfT. Is there a danger of indiepop taking over the civil service or is the civil service an attractive option for indiepop stars? Ex-indiepop people only have a few options - teaching, the civil service or destitution! The rest of the June Brides are either teachers (Big Jon is a deputy headmaster at a girls' school) or in the civil service. Who else is gonna take us on?! There were 3 indiepop stars in an office of over 1000 - so no great danger, as yet, of an indiepop takeover ;-)Wilson mentions the civil service aligning with the left-wing principles of pre-Cool Brittannia indiepop (which stood in opposition to Thatcherism and its soundtrack of Lloyd-Webber, Stock/Aitken/Waterman and wine-bar sophistisoul; not to be confused with Britpop and recent "indie", which had been coopted by the smooth-talking Blairites) with the civil service, and equating a rejection of capitalism and the private sector with a rejection of the major-label system in the 1980s.
August is shaping up to be a good month for rereleases; now Cherry Red are rereleasing Another Sunny Day's "London Weekend" on the 17th. London Weekend contains indiepop classics such as You Should All Be Murdered, Anorak City and I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist, and has been unavailable since Sarah Records shut down in 1995. The rerelease will come out with 6 bonus tracks and sleeve notes by Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley.
(Apparently the rerelease comes about through Harvey Williams having bought back the rights to the album, rather than Matt and Clare deciding to open the Sarah vaults, though there are (as always) vague rumours of more Sarah rereleases. Let's hope that they do happen and there's some Blueboy among them.)
However, after sixteen lengthy years as purveyors of the well-crafted pop song, saddle-rash has finally set in, and sights are being set upon new horizons. Tali White, the band’s lead singer and drummer, has decided to further pursue his career as a primary school teacher, while Marty Donald, Mark Monnone and Louis Richter intend to head forth into new musical terrain whilst juggling parenthood, study and the fun-park ride that is casual employment.
I recently received in the mail a new EP by a band named Moscow Olympics, and have been listening to it rather a lot (as is evident in my last.fm stats). Anyway, I think this is a cracker of a record, and possibly the début of the year.
I found out about Moscow Olympics' Cut The World via the indie-mp3 blog (though had heard the band mentioned before), and ordered a copy. Soon enough, an envelope arrived bearing Swedish postage stamps and containing a CD, its cardboard case printed with photographs of the interiors of 1980s East German apartments.
The record itself starts strongly, with gated drums straight out of 1988 and the plaintive ringing of a guitar line; within the first 30 seconds of the first track, What Is Left Unsaid, it is obvious that this is going to be a slice of classic indiepop in the post-C86 vein. Choppy guitar chords, wistful chord progressions, tensely wound rhythms and Hookier-than-thou melodic basslines are reminiscent of the likes of The Bodines, Factory-era Wake or something from Manchester before it became Madchester; just listening to the record, one is transported back to northern England in the 1980s, to visions of row houses snaking their way downhill under the leaden glow of grey skies; views from grotty bedsit windows, the BBC on the telly, and the miners' strike in the headlines. Which is all the more unusual, as the band hail not from Thatcher-era Grey Britain but from Manila, in the Philippines. Yet, obviously, they are driven by a deep love of 1980s British indie-pop, as this record is imbued with its spirit, with all the awkward exuberance that still keeps this genre fresh and relevant.
The next two tracks go on as the record started; in the fourth track, Safe, the vocals, which already were low in the mix and washed with reverb, blossom into full-blown shoegazing à la Slowdive or Secret Shine. Meanwhile, track 6, Ocean Sign, ramps up the New Order influences, with extra-Hooky basslines; it almost sounds like something off Low-life. The finale and title cut starts innocuously, but rises to a crescendo of gloriously delayed guitar, like a brighter, sunnier version of Slowdive's Primal (the closing track from their first album), before exiting gloriously in a tail of shimmering reverb.
I'm tipping this to be one of my records of 2008. Well done, Moscow Olympics.
Heritage-rock bible Mojo Magazine has published its list of the 50 greatest UK indie records of all time. For the most part, it's quite solid, being a melange of Glasgow-school new-optimists, C86-era janglepop and the odd bit of arty post-punk. The only concessions to recent commercial/populist Carling-indie are The Libertines and The Arctic Monkeys, inexplicably placed at #26 and #7 respectively. The Sarah Records roster is represented by one track, The Sea Urchins' Pristine Christine. (I would have expected that a label that defined a big chunk of what British indiepop was for a stretch of the late 80s and early 90s would have had more; perhaps Heavenly's Hearts and Crosses or The Field Mice's Emma's House?)
Pitchfork has a new interview with Jens Lekman, in which he talks about listening to the Sly Hats, plans to move to Melbourne (where he has more friends than in Gothenburg), the Arthur Russell covers EP he has put together, and incurring the wrath of the South Swedish Elvis Society:
There's one song with Frida [Hyvönen] that is a song that we wrote together in Finnish that I think is coming out sometime. I played it for a lot of people. It almost made it onto the album, actually. I think it would have actually fit pretty good on the album. But we just took the four phrases that we knew in Finnish-- she knew two phrases, I knew two phrases-- and we just wrote them down and realized, "Oh, this would actually make a really great song." And it starts off, like, I sing, "I love you," and she sings, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." And I repeat, "I love you," and she says, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." And then the chorus goes, "Wonderful, cutie-pie, wonderful." And that's the whole song, but it's a really beautiful song. Yeah, you will love it. I think you will really like it.
So I was thinking of just trying to settle down. I think I need a new home and a new place and to see how that place and home and how the people who live there will influence my music. I guess that will be Melbourne, if I don't find something else before that. It's going to be interesting.
No, I don't have a girlfriend. No, I don't. I haven't had a relationship in years, actually. But yeah, I'm still looking. It's kind of nice to be looking for a home at the same time. And I really think I need to find a home. I don't know if that includes a girlfriend or not, but first I need to find a home, definitely. Because I felt pretty homeless in the last couple of years, and I never felt at home here in Kortedala. So it's time to find someplace where I feel like it's home.
Bobby Wratten, of The Field Mice/Trembling Blue Stars fame, has posted an interview he did with a Spanish publication named Supernova Pop in July, in which he dismisses The Field Mice as being "like baby pictures", and asserts that only some songs on the first two of Wibbling Blue Stars' albums were about his breakup with Anne Mari (or is it Annemari?).
I also, think of The Field Mice as being like baby pictures; we were learning and it's not something I really want to look back on.I'd never want to listen to a Field Mice record whereas although I'd rather not I could stand to listen to a TBS record if I had to! If I were to be judged on anything I'd want it to be TBS. I think the songs are better and the records are better produced and more adventurous.Then again, in my opinion, The Field Mice had something that's missing in Trembling Blue Stars; a sense of passion perhaps? And from a technical point of view, they can be hardly called shambolic; even their early 3-chord guitar-and-drum-machine songs (Emma's House, for one) are skilfully put together, and other tracks (Missing The Moon and Indian Ocean, to name two) show a technical polish far removed from what one could classify as juvenilia. Unless one means that they don't show an excess of enthusiasm.
I like all kinds of music, a lot of which has no direct influence on the music I make myself. But,there are four people who I'd say have directly influenced me(in TBS) and have inspired me more than any others; Jeff Tweedy, Robert Smith, Mark Hollis and Brian Eno.
Belle and Sebastian are now working on a musical. Actually, it's not going to play in the West End alongside We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia and the numerous lesser much-loved-band-canon musicals, but is going to take the form of a feature film, apparently in the style of The Beatles' ventures in the genre.
Stuart, who recently turned up on the red carpet as a guest at Hallam Foe's launch in Edinburgh, said: "We're making a record because that's what we do. But when the time and mood are right, the record will become a film."The title will be "God Help The Girl" (which sounds rather like a Belle & Sebastian song title) and it'll be set in a city not unlike Glasgow, only with "the canals were a bit grimier, the high-rise buildings taller, the streets emptier when you needed them to be, and the beat clubs busier than the ones around here". One of the songs from it will be titled "The Psychiatrist Is In".
During summer, a girl who plays in a ladies football team (Gregory's Girl, anyone?) meets a boy who works at the local swimming pool. After getting the bedsit next door, they meet another girl and decide to make music together.
Stuart said: "The boy was kind of flexible as nobody had shown much interest in him for awhile. So he went along, prepared to teach girl two all he knew about the steel-strung acoustic guitar that he cradled.They are now looking for performers (actors/singers) to star in the film. If you feel you'd fit the part (and, presumably, live somewhere near Glasgow), there are more details here.
The Secret History, the band formed from the ashes of underground cult heroes My Favorite (one of the most grieviously underrated bands of the past decade, in my opinion), now has a MySpace page. There's one track up so far, titled Our Lady of Pompeii and sounding somewhat jauntier and less new-wavey than My Favorite, though still with Michael Grace Jr.'s characteristic turns of phrase. And if you're ablee to be in Brooklyn, New York, this Thursday, they've got a gig on.
Harvey Williams was great; he first part of his set he played on an electric piano, doing mostly newer songs (i.e., from his 1990s album on Shinkansen; there wasn't a raft of new material), though he then picked up an acoustic guitar and played a bunch of older songs, including You Should All Be Murdered and I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist. It was great to see him performing these songs.
Then there was Rose Melberg's set, which was sublimely lovely. She played acoustic guitar and sang, with a friend from Vancouver (where she lives now) accompanying her on vocal harmonies (much in the way that Jen Sbragia did in the Softies). They played for about an hour, doing recent songs, a few older songs (including The Softies' It's Love, which many in the audience sang along with), and some covers. The highlight of the set by far would have to be the cover of The Field Mice's The Last Letter; Rose started it almost apologetically, concerned that she may be committing sacrilege of a sort, proceeded to play a beautiful version (imagine said song as a Softies song and you've got it) and finished to rousing applause. Anyway, there's a video here:
Jens Lekman talks to Pitchfork about his upcoming album, Night Falls over Kortedala, his travel plans, and the travails of sample clearance:
He's thinking about setting up shop in Melbourne, Australia, as part of "a huge exploration next year in the Southern Hemisphere. We're actually thinking about going to Antarctica, for a while... I've been saving for years to go there."
Jens likened his situation to that of French author/soldier Xavier de Maistre, who penned the 1794 essay Voyage Autour de Ma Chambre (Journey Around My Room). "I haven't read it myself but I think it's amazing. It's about a young man who's imprisoned in his own home, and he wrote this parody of travel stories-- you know, back in the 18th century when everyone wrote about their journeys to China and the East and West. So he wrote about traveling around in his living room. I think it's amazing. And then he wrote a sequel, A Nocturnal Journey Around My Room (Expedition nocturne de ma chambre, published in 1825 --ed.]. It was like the exact same thing except it was at night.
Frequent readers of Jens' blog may have encountered a somewhat embittered recent entry regarding securing the rights for the samples on the new record-- in which Jens expressed disappointment toward his U.S. label-- followed a few days later by a reconciliation. "I can't really talk about it that much," Jens explained, "but let's just say it worked out. I was able to replace one sample that was extremely expensive; it was like the one bad guy. And I had a guy who played with Steely Dan play it, and it came out exactly the way it sounded on the sample."
To be released September 5th in Scandinavia and October 9th in the rest of the world.There is also a rumour (floating around a certain message board) that Jens has plans to relocate to Melbourne for a year in 2008.
- And I Remember Every Kiss
- Sipping On The Sweet Nectar
- The Opposite Of Hallelujah
- A Postcard To Nina
- Into Eternity
- I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You
- If I Could Cry (It Would Feel Like This)
- Your Arms Around Me
- It Was A Strange Time In My Life
- Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig
- Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo
Today's Cat and Girl is particularly choice:
The Guardian's (and Smoke's) Jude Rogers looks at how the meaning of the word "indie" has changed, and attempts to reclaim it:
Indie used to be such a simple term in the Eighties - a byword for an attitude, a subculture and a territory of music that was quietly, stubbornly, alternative. In the UK it meant anti-commercialism wearing a cardigan and glasses; a protest against the mainstream sporting twee hairslides. But now it has come to mean something entirely different. A few weeks ago, Big Brother contestant Emily Parr proclaimed, hilariously: 'There's a new music taking over this country and it's called indie.' Mario Testino shoots 'indie fashion' for Vogue and multi-platinum-selling guitar groups such as the Kooks, Razorlight and Snow Patrol are 'indie bands'. Indie is now a byword for something very different: for commercial savvy and success disguised as contemporary cool. It is no longer independent of anything: indie has become the mainstream.Rogers' first stop is, appropriately enough, a gig by Art Brut, who combine the shambolicism of "old indie" with the style and marketable coolness of "new indie".
Outside, a group of teenagers in velvet jackets are handing out flyers. They positively ooze indie. 'We're independent, not indie,' says Cyan, 16, with a studied world-weariness. 'We would've been, but indie means the Libertines and the View these days. We're more DIY.' He's in a band called I Am the Arm with his friend Aimee, and they both like Art Brut because the band doesn't subscribe to any notions of 'cool'. 'Indie's not difficult or energetic at all any more. It's just music for the mainstream. It's music for poseurs.'
That said, her friend Ben, 21, says, 'Indie is something to make you look better next to the chavs.' And Emma, 23, and Jo, 26, two very well-spoken, pleasant girls with thick fringes, like the term because 'being indie made you cooler at school, because you were wearing the right kind of clothes'. They agree this isn't the kind of indie that ruled back in the Eighties, but a modern, fashionable strand. And how would they define indie now? 'Cool guitar bands,' they say, before running down the stairs to hear Art Brut arrive in a flourish of feedback.
I catch a bus to the Young and Lost Club in Shoreditch, east London. I come here to investigate a related complaint about contemporary indie: that it has gone posh as well as cool; that the music of the underdog has been taken over by the rich kids, including ubiquitous gossip-column staple Peaches Geldof. Pop critic Simon Price recently complained about indie gigs being full of 'horsey young fillies canoodling with flush-faced bucks, fresh out of public school', deeming the indie gig the new 'social club for dressed-down debutantes to see and be seen'.However, there is hope; while the word "indie" essentially means "music that was considered "white" 10 years ago", and encompasses everything from Judas Priest to Coldplay (the other variety of music is "hip-hop", which includes reggae, funk and R&B—though not Rhythm and Blues, as that's "indie"), the term "indie-pop", lacking the sort of cocky stadium-filling swagger that brings the sponsors and advertisers onside, is still cherished by legions of purists and not of interest to trendy poseurs; which means that, by the new definition, they're not very "indie":
A large part of tonight's crowd come from the indie messageboard Bowlie, an international web community that grew out of the Belle and Sebastian and Jeepster label websites. Regular member Emma, 24, laughs as she tells me what a bouncer said to her recently: 'He said, "You're the most uncool crowd I've ever seen. You're like a disco for the computer club."' The messageboard's founder, David Kitchen, agrees. 'Indie initially was never about coolness. It was about the people that Pulp summed up so well - a little bit ugly, a little bit kooky, a bit fucked-up. It's for people who want to do things for themselves, and share things together, without fear of recrimination.'
HDIF founder Ian Watson is especially delighted that this culture is booming. Thanks to the internet, and a renewed enthusiasm for stuff away from the flimflam of popular music, he thinks we're now living in a golden age for DIY music. He mentions a new indie-pop festival, Indie Tracks, to be held in a station in Derbyshire this month, and how he keeps hearing about people setting up their own clubs, bands and labels.And here, rock critic Kitty Empire writes about the history of "indie" and how it won the world and lost its soul.
There is a MP3 of Trembling Blue Stars doing an acoustic version of The Field Mice's Missing The Moon on their MySpace page. Stripped down from its synthpop baroqueness to one guitar and vocals, the song gains a new immediacy and poignancy. Go and download.
Things I didn't know until today: there is a video to
And here is some rather distorted footage from a performance at a Sarah Records backyard party. No idea who the band are, I'm afraid.
The Believer has an interview with Khaela Maricich, of The Blow (conducted by a friend of hers, writer Miranda July), in which she talks about her past art projects and what various songs from Paper Television are about.
She's from Melbourne, she's 24, she sometimes works in a bar. Her name is Evelyn Morris and she calls herself Pikelet, and although she hits the drums for two experimental hardcore bands, her debut solo record is the stuff of charmingly arcane and cryptically beautiful pop.
She sings her own harmonies; she loops and layers her songs into stunningly melodic vignettes; she writes songs about eating bugs in her sleep.
"When I was little, my older brother would tell me stories that would scare me," she says, pauses, laughs a little. "He was like, 'Over a person's life they swallow thousands of spiders' and I was like, 'What!' just freaking out.You can hear some samples of Pikelet's work on her MySpace page. Her self-titled album is out now in Australia, and should be in all decent record shops; those outside of Australia who want to order it can get a copy from the likes of Red Eye. Pikelet will be playing a gig in London on the 15th of July, at the Enterprise in Chalk Farm.
Keith Girdler, frontman of Sarah Records band Blueboy and subsequent bands Lovejoy and Beaumont, has apparently passed away recently. From an email circulating:
It is with immense sadness that I have to inform you that my dearest friend Keith Girdler died on May 15th 2007. Keith passed away peacefully after a recent deterioration in his condition - he was diagnosed with cancer in July 2004. Keith was a truly special person and I know that many people will hold very fond memories of their time spent in his company. Keith is survived by his partner, his siblings and their families. We are all devastated at the tragic loss of Keith and we will miss him enormously.
Keith was known to many as the singer in Blueboy - a brilliant band who are still seen as influential many years since they last released a record. He was a gifted songwriter and he had a beautiful voice. I considered Keith to be not only my best friend but an amazingly talented person. It was a huge privilege to know him. Despite continuing to release records with his other groups Arabesque, Beaumont, Lovejoy and The Snowdrops, Keith's focus shifted away from music in recent years. He enjoyed a successful career, first by training as a qualified social worker and then developing a skilled role as Volunteer Services Manager for Age Concern Eastbourne. He was passionate about his work and the need to stand up for some of the most vulnerable elderly people in our society. Keith was exteremly brave and he continued in his work for as long as possible during his illness. I know that Keith was very highly regarded by his colleagues and the people for whom he provided care and support in his work. He was a selfless and gentle person who genuinely affected everyone he knew with his warmth, kindness, humility and humour.
Keith wanted to be remembered, to use his own words, with 'happiness and smiles' - which for those of us fortunate enough to have known him, will come all too easily despite our grief.
Words cannot really come close to describing the feelings we have about Keith. However, I know that many people will want to express their sorrow at this news and their sympathy to his family and friends. If you would like to send a message of condolence, or share your memories of Keith, please send an email to snowboundipc (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk.
Messages and tributes to Keith will be published online in the near future, when a suitable web location has been established.
Richard Preece May 22 2007
Melbourne bedroom pop outfit The Motifs has a new CD out; titled "Away", it contains 25 songs, both old and new, and each undoubtedly a masterpiece of pocket-sized pop perfection. It's only available through a Japanese record label, who
don't have an English-language order form. have just added an English-language ordering site. What are you waiting for?
The Architecture In Helsinki marketing juggernaut is gearing up to promote their upcoming releases; MP3 blog Stereogum now has an electro-dance remix of their latest single, Heart It Races; this dispenses with the reggaetonisms of the original (could it be that AIH read ILX last year as well?) and sounds much as you'd expect something titled the Pink Skull remix to sound: hard-edged and hyper-fashionable. Expect to hear this playing in the coolest boutiques in Prahran.
This blog has been quiet recently because your humble correspondent has been in bed with a cold for the past two days (a state of affairs which may or may not have had something to do with watching indie bands on chilly railway station platforms in Derbyshire on the weekend). Anyway, in lieu of new content, here are a few old links and random things:
- Here is a photo gallery of eerily empty former advertising billboards and hoardings in São Paulo, Brazil, where all outdoor advertising is now banned. Not surprisingly, the advertising industry is concerned about the human rights of those who might want to be advertised at:
"I think this city is going to become a sadder, duller place," said Dalton Silvano, who cast the sole dissenting vote and is in the advertising business. "Advertising is both an art form and, when you're in your car or alone on foot, a form of entertainment that helps relieve solitude and boredom."
- Stylus Magazine has an interesting guided tour of the first 50 Sarah Records singles, going beyond the usual "twee/jangly indie pop" cliché that the label is often dismissed as. As for actually hearing the records, Clare Wadd said a while ago that there were plans to release the entire Sarah back-catalogue as downloads, though nothing seems to have come of that so far.
- And a few videos from The Blow's recent gig in London: Hey Boy, a spoken-word interlude, and an acapella version of The Long List Of Girls.
Last night, I went to see I'm From Barcelona at Koko. Not my favourite venue, though the gig was amazing as always.
The supports were a mixed bag; first up was a band named Paris Motel, who were nothing like The Paradise Motel, but rather the sort of conservatorium-pop that could have been described as "radio-friendly" in the days when things that weren't based on R&B or "alternative rock" got airplay; perhaps the closest comparison would be George (the Australian band). All very polished adult-contemporary pop songs with strings and woodwinds played by good-looking people. Then there was a Swedish band named Samuraj Cities, who were OK though unexceptional, and another band whose name I forgot who featured a double bass and dulcimer.
Then on came I'm From Barcelona; entering the stage to the sounds of Queen's Barcelona, they kicked off with Treehouse, and went on to do their full set. They did their new songs (the Grizzly Man song and the Team Zissou song), and later did a cover of Bryan Adams' Can't Stop This Thing We've Started, which they managed to redeem quite well, turning it into a quite nice piece of brass-led Swedish indiepop. (For what it's worth, I detest Bryan Adams' musical output itself, in all its middle-aged rock blandness.) They played for longer this time, with an actual 3-song encore.
he encore led into the usual closing track, Adventure Kid's cover of We're From Barcelona. But then Adventure Kid (one of their friends from Jonkoping, I think) went on and continued playing, rocking out on a Korg monosynth over some electronic beats. His music was like a more dance-oriented I Am Robot And Proud or somesuch; there was one track which Emanuel joined in on. Most of I'm From Barcelona remained on the stage, dancing along with their fruit-shaped shakers and ukeleles and such (though one member threw a ukelele into the audience at one point; wonder if it's on eBay yet). The audience mostly stayed as well and danced along, applauding wildly at the end. Everyone had fun; forget NME New Rave™, this is what an indie-rave crossover should look like.
Anyway, Adventure Kid had a few unlabelled CD-Rs of his tunes for sale at the somewhat shambolic merch stall after the gig; I picked one up. The dilemma now: what to name the tracks when ripping it. I suspect that there are going to be a lot of last.fm hits for "Track 01" and so on soon.
News is filtering out about Architecture In Helsinki's new material; the album has been recorded, though the title and release date are as yet unknown. The first single, however, will be titled "Heart It Races" (how AIH is that title?), and should be out sometime around early May, or at least that's when they're touring (the east coast of Australia) to promote it. They will also be playing at festivals in Europe in June.
If their gig at ULU in London last year is anything to go by, the new material should be in more of an electro-funk direction. I'm certainly looking forward eagerly to it.
There's a new release from 1980s Mancunian indiepop group The Bodines, of all bands. It's not a new release, though; it looks like someone found some unreleased recordings of theirs from 1988, which Berlin-based C86 back-catalogue label Firestation Records has now packaged up into a 3-track EP, titled Shrinkwrapped. No idea what it's like, or whether it matches the soaring brilliance of Therese or Heard It All.
Last night, I went to see I'm From Barcelona at ULU; it was the third I'm From Barcelona gig I've seen, and was excellent.
The first support was some geezer with an acoustic guitar, who varied from ordinary to passable. The second support was quite a bit more impressive; a Swedish indiepop band named Irene; they were somewhat smaller in scale than I'm From Barcelona (they had about 7 members, which seemed positively modest compared to IFB's 29 or so), though had much the same sort of joyous summery exuberance about their music. I suspect I'll have to get their CD.
Then I'm From Barcelona made their entrance, with their usual grandeur and showmanship; the strains of that Queen song they use as an intro played and Emanuel and his friends filtered onto the stage, resplended in their usual slightly cartoonish hipster attire. (Aside: I'm told that all the cool kids in Stockholm are wearing oversized plastic glasses these days.) Giant balloons were inflated and thrown into the air above the audience, who proceeded to volley them around throughout the gig, and an industrial bubble-blowing machine was set up on stage. Then the intro ended and the band kicked off with a rousing rendition of "Treehouse", the audience singing along with the catchy chorus.
Audience participation was the order of the day; the audience were invited to join into the easy parts of various songs (the "Daaaamn!" in Oversleeping, and the second repetition of We're From Barcelona, with some prompting), and those who had kazoos (available at the merch stall) were invited onto the stage during Chicken Pox. The band seemed to be having fun with the music, taking it on mischievous detours (a chorus from a Madonna song in one song, an excursion into reggae towards the end of another). They also played a few new songs: one (with a severely reduced line-up; just Emanuel and two others) was about making friends with grizzly bears, inspired (somewhat mischievously) by Werner Herzog's The Grizzly Man, and another referenced Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
The gig was an exuberantly joyous experience; there was a really friendly mood in the venue, with everyone brought together by the music. By the end of the gig, the audience were (in Emanuel's words) the band's new best friends, and I'm sure that I'm From Barcelona were quite a few people's new favourite band.
During my visit to Melbourne, I videotaped a few gigs. Now (time and computer facilities permitting), I'm going through the tapes and will be putting a few choice fragments on YouTube (with permission of the performers, of course).
The first fragment: Light Music Club, "Music for the Tiny Hours", live at Spoon, Brunswick:
Apologies for the shaky camerawork/less than ideal video quality.
Swedish indiepop label Labrador is celebrating its 10th anniversary and 100 releases by
ceasing operations, Sarah Records-style releasing a box set. Titled, modestly, Labrador 100: A Complete History of Popular Music, the 4CD set will include 100 songs and a thick booklet, and comes out on the 14th of February. There's a release party in Stockholm on the 10th of February.
A Times article from last year, talking to Swedish pop band I'm From Barcelona about their background:
Any pressure Lundgren feels at taking the helm of this oil-tanker of a group is, he admits, entirely his fault. After years of being what he describes as a melancholy guy writing melancholy songs a funny thing happened, and he fell in love with a girl called Frida (who now plays maracas in the band). Spurred out of his malaise, an idea quickly crystallised as he found himself writing songs not just for his own benefit, but also for his friends.
Many pursue other musical interests, such as Erik Ottosson, the dreadlocked tuba player who is "the youngest by about fifty years" in a local marching band. Rikard Ljung has his own group, but joined I'm From Barcelona as their flautist despite having next to no experience with the instrument. "I know all the notes I need to know, but there are kids from second grade who are better than me," he admits, before leaning forward to make sure Lundgren is out of earshot. "If we're playing live and it's too hard, sometimes I just pretend to play."For those in the UK, I'm From Barcelona are playing in London on either the 24th or 25th of January, depending on whom you believe, and possibly in Manchester around that date as well.
Jens Lekman writes about Gothenburg, specifically explaining the significance of Hammer Hill (which sounds like Sweden's answer to Bethnal Green or Notting Hill), Kortedala (which is apparently much, much worse) and Tram #7:
I told you where tram # 7 goes. It was a temporary stop. She don't live here anymore, it was a long time since we broke up. Still, taking # 7 from Sahlgrenska down to the Botanical Gardens is , if you do it at the right time, a breathtaking experience. The sky opens up, the tracks underneath creaking, the trees embracing you as you come down from the bridge and into the lushness of Slottskogen. I used to test my songs during this little trip. If they managed to keep me focused despite the heavenly views and the loud creaking, then they had something. The other day I took this trip and listened to the new songs. They did well.
And a YouTube treat for you: Swedish indiepop ensemble I'm From Barcelona performing "Treehouse" at their recent gig in Hoxton:
The rest of the gig, incidentally, was just as brilliant; it was more like a travelling party than a concert.
Swedesplease, a MP3 blog dedicated to Swedish music, has a pretty nifty electro version of "We're From Barcelona", by someone named Adventure Kid. Check it out.
(In case you haven't heard the original, it's on I'm From Barcelona's MySpace page; it's incredibly catchy, and perhaps the singalong anthem of the year.
(via the Spiral Scratch DJ)
The indie-mp3 blog has just posted some demos by Another Sunny Day, the Sarah Records indie-pop project best known for You Should All Be Murdered. They're rather lo-fi, though interesting enough, and there are some decent songs there. The blog also claims to have some Field Mice demos which they will be posting shortly.
YouTube music video of the day: "We're From Barcelona", by Swedish pop combo I'm From Barcelona. There's 27 of them, and they sound somewhere between a Polyphonic Spree (only without the white-robed Texan cultist shtick) and recent Swedish summery indie-pop like Sambassadeur or Jens Lekman.
The latest in LTM's line of Sarah Records rereleases is an Aberdeen retrospective, one of the bands linking Sarah Records to American teen sitcom soundtracks. This includes various songs from the Californian band's career, both during the Sarah days and afterward (their most recent releases date back from 2004!), and contains a cover of The Field Mice's Emma's House.
This week, I went to see Spearmint at the Luminaire. They were excellent; incredibly tight and energetic, with lots of handclaps, harmonies and dancing around the stage. And their new material is quite impressive (particularly Psycho Magnet, which sounds like what Funny Little Frog would have been had it been recorded by early-1990s Pulp rather than Belle & Sebastian).
Anyway, a few choice video fragments from the gig:
01 - The Love Letter Band - This World Is Not My HomeIt sounds somewhat more polished than C86; perhaps because technology has moved on to the point where sounding lo-fi is an aesthetic choice rather than a technological limitation. Most of the songs on this compilation are electric-guitar-based, and fall into the broad "indie-pop" tradition, sounding not unlike a 7" single recorded in the north of Britain in 1988 or so, or possibly like a more polished version thereof. The Apple Orchard and Celestial sound like lesser-known Sarah Records bands, and A Place To Bury Strangers start off like a more lo-fi My Bloody Valentine, or perhaps Secret Shine, while Sarandon do their best impression of the skronkyness on the original C86. Meanwhile, the Love Letter Band have gone a lot more folky/countryish since I last heard them ("Even The Pretty Girls Take Medicine").
02 - Mon Fio - Alexis
03 - Apple Orchard - A Hiding Smile
04 - Celestial - Dream On
05 - Santa Dog - Rosa
06 - Umlaut - Lea Green
07 - A Place To Bury Strangers - Dont Think Lover
08 - Chuzzlewit - Verga
09 - Loveninjas - Keep Your Love
10 - Rocket Punch - Pink Cashmere
11 - Shrugged - Tattooed Heart
12 - Crumb - Follow Me Home
13 - Pelle Carlberg - Clever Girls
14 - Compute - Every Chance
15 - Bib - I Wanna Be A Better
16 - Bobby Baby - Lucky Moments
17 - Goof - Dancing Shoes
18 - Sarandon - Meet Warren
19 - Bubblegum Lemonade - Tyler
20 - Michael Knight - Waves To The Shore
21 - The Sweethearts - Into The Woods
22 - The Factory Owners - Elephants Mean Death
23 - Cowboy X - Gabbi
24 - Math And Physics Club - Movie Ending Romance
The compilation isn't all neo-C86 jangle-pop traditionalism; towards the end, it makes a concession to it being 2006, as the jangly-guitar/bass/handclaps formula gives way to more contemporary electronic sounds, with artists such as Compute and Bib combining synthpop sequencers with indie-pop sounds; meanwhile, Bobby Baby bringing a rather nice piece of understated folktronica to the project, and Cowboy X contributes some crunchy electro-pop not a world away from Ladytron or someone.
I tuned into the 3RRR Breakfasters this morning (streamed over the internet and time-delayed) and found that sometime Rocknerd columnist Clem Bastow is now reading the news. I wonder whether she (being a coolsie chat and all) was responsible for the Mid-State Orange song being played after the news. Anything that breaks up the monotony of the Breakfasters playlist is, in my opinion, welcome.
The rules are:There is also a competition to design the sleeve of C06. Entries for both close on the 30th.
1) the track has to have been released in 2005 or 2006
2) It must be a free and legal download such as a band site, my space, music download.com etc
3) one track only per respondent
4) a link to the file and website must be provided
Another article on C86, the lo-fi indie compilation that's 20 years old this week, this time on the Sweeping The Nation blog.
Meanwhile, Berlin C86-influenced indiepop label Firestation Records, or perhaps Firestation Tower Records, (they're the ones who released the "Sounds of Leamington Spa" compilation CDs of late-1980s British indie-pop single releases, as well as various album rereleases from the same milieu) have released a compilation that could well be C06. Of course, they didn't have the gall to call it that, so it just has the rather generic title of "New British Invasion", and includes bands like The Pipettes and Vincent Vincent and the Villains, rather than the more generic and commercial Carling-indie that NME would have filled up any official C06™ with.
1990s shoegazer band Secret Shine (who were fellow Bristolians Sarah Records' foray into the Scene That Celebrated Itself) are back. They have a web site, a new EP (which is said to be pretty good), and have put up MP3s from one of their live gigs for the downloading. For those who want to catch them live, they're going to be doing a few gigs, including one at London's Club AC30 in July and a few US dates later in the year.
Indiepedia is like Wikipedia, only focussing on indie bands, and run by people who know that "indie music" is not the same as "whatever NME and Xfm are pimping now". Of course, it could be argued that it would be better just to post these articles to Wikipedia.
A blog named Mocking Music has a primer on what "C86" is, both the original NME DIY-indie cassette and the genre (jangly and/or twee pop) it has, rightly or wrongly, become synonymous with:
C86 is a type of music, but what it describes is a contentious point. Its original meaning can be agreed upon at least. What it began as was a free cassette that came with issues of the British magazine NME in 1986 (hence, cassette 1986), later available for purchase as an LP through Rough Trade. Like its predecessor, C81, it featured a slew of up and coming indie acts. Unlike C81, this cassette's indie acts were far more indie and less established.
Says NME's website: "We [tried] to invent an alternative scene - our own version of punk you could say - by forcing a coterie of new bands onto a cassette called C86. It's not entirely convincing and you should get out more if you remember The Shop Assistants - but it nails our colours to the mast. We, it said, for better or worse, are indie."
Of course, NME is no longer indie, but twenty years of popularity will do that. Were C86 a cassette alone, it wouldn't merit much note now. But it became more than that. Although not all the bands featured on the compilation were stylistically similar, enough of them shared the same shambolic sound for C86 to quickly become identified as a particular genre, a movement, in independent rock. That sound is arguably twee, and definitively Jangly. Although many tweepop groups do grow from C86, the genre is, strictly speaking, jangle pop. Some have argued that, like Krautrock, C86 is more a time and place thing: late 80's British DIY indie, rather than a genre, but listen to the compilation, or any of the bands that became linked to C86 afterward, and you'll find that most of the artists have a shared, distinct sound (i.e. discordant feed-back laden guitars mixed with almost child-like vocalization of mostly cheery, sometimes political lyrics).(Of course, the statement "NME is no longer indie" is only valid if one uses the word "indie" in the purist sense, rather than the popular sense. In the other sense, NME remains the bible of "indie", but "indie" is no longer indie; instead, "indie" these days is the next generation of "alternative", a fashion-conscious, highly commercial and formulaic genre of music, upbeat, stylishly-distressed football-terrace anthems, sponsored by Carling and Clear Channel, and comprised of simple riffs and the catchier bits lifted from the underground music of yesterday, streamlined for mass consumption. But I digress.)
Mocking Music goes on to examine each track on the NME cassette (side A and side B); the descriptions are somewhat brief and in some cases cursory to the extreme (and contain a few mistakes, for example, "Bullfighter's Bones" is named in one place as "Bullfighter Blues"), though they do include MP3 links, and does explain who Nerys Hughes was.
IMHO, C86 is an interesting historical document, and worth a listen, though it is far from a list of either the best or most significant exponents of the zeitgeist that became known as C86. A handful of the tracks merit repeated listening (in my opinion, the highlights include Primal Scream's Velocity Girl, The Bodines' Therese, Stump's Buffalo, The Shop Assistants' It's Up To You and the abovementioned Half Man Half Biscuit song, (even though it's arguable nobody who hasn't lived in England during the 1980s has a chance of truly understanding HMHB, however, collecting their works and cribbing up on the soap actors and second-division football managers mentioned from online cheat sheets could be useful for Anglophilic oneupmanship); much of the rest is somewhat forgettable. On the other hand, I suspect that more recent NME compilations (Britpack anyone?) won't stand the test of time to anywhere near the same extent as C86 did.
Last night, I went to see Jens Lekman, the Swedish indie singer-songwriter, at Bush Hall. He was excellent.
There were two supports: the Bill Wells ensemble, and some chap named Richard Swift. The former (who are from Glasgow and have played with Belle & Sebastian) also doubled as Jens' backing band (and did a sterling job of it); in turn, Jens joined them on stage on various instruments during their set. They were quite good, in a jazzy sort of way. The Richard Swift outfit, however, seemed a bit too loud; their sound was distorted and harsh.
Shortly before 10, Jens came on with an acoustic guitar, and performed an unplugged acoustic version of Happy Birthday, Dear Friend Lisa, segueing into an unrecorded older song titled Are Birthdays Happy? ("Are birthdays happy, or just a countdown to death?"), before being joined by the band (three women on brass, a drummer, and Bill Wells on piano). He played a few songs familiar to anyone who has his CDs, including good renditions of Black Cab, A Sweet Summer Night On Hammer Hill, You Are The Light By Which I Travel and a version of Maple Leaves with both English and Swedish lyrics, and a few other ones, which may have been newer, older or both; he sang and played bass, guitar and electric thumb piano, playing for about an hour.
Then, when the gig finished and everybody was turfed out of the hall by the management, he materialised behind the merchandise stall with an acoustic guitar and regaled the assembled punters with two songs, I Don't Know If She's Worth 900 Kronor and Tram #7 to Heaven.
This February so far has been a record-breaking month for gigs; in the past 2 weeks, I have seen what could well be three of the best gigs of 2006. Anyway, Jens Lekman is a class act in every sense, and those reading this in Melbourne should consider yourselves lucky to get to see him with Guy Blackman and part of Architecture In Helsinki as a backing band soon.
Pitchfork interviews Jens Lekman, in which he talks about how he deleted all his unfinished songs from his computer and went to work in a bingo hall to take a break, the numerous records he has sampled, being beaten up by Morrissey fans (apparently the jock bullies in Sweden listen to Morrissey) and his coming Australian tour, backed up by Guy Blackman and members of Architecture In Helsinki.
The latest addition to the Belle & Sebastian lifestyle-experience empire is a graphic novel. Titled Put The Book Back On The Shelf, it comes out in February (one week before their new album) and features stories titled after (and presumably inspired by) Belle & Sebastian songs, written and illustrated by various sequential artists. The only name that immediately rings a bell is Laurenn McCubbin (co-author of "Lazy Line Painter Jane"), who I think is one of those freaky fetish-goth authors Warren Ellis hangs around with or something, and who also did the cover art. (I was hoping they'd get Daniel Clowes or Dorothy Gambrell or someone to contribute to it, but you can't have everything.)
UK indie band Spearmint have a new fans-only acoustic CD. Titled "The Boy And The Girl That Got Away", it features nine songs written especially for an acoustic tour earlier this year, and may be found at Spearmint's label's website:
This album is strictly limited and will not be available in high street shops or from other websites. Featured tracks are:
Your New Gay Friend
Your Southern Skies
Some Men Are Like That
Why I'm Sad
A Little Better
Alone In A Town
Another Gloomy Sunday
US mail-order indie-pop label Shelflife is moving from San Francisco to somewhere in Southern California, and is thus having a sale. Most of their catalogue is for sale for $1 per item, while stocks last; if you're into fey indie jangle-pop and bossa-pop, there is a fair amount here you may find interesting.
Belle & Sebastian have announced their next UK tour, in January and February of 2006. Tickets go on sale on Thursday at 9am.
After 14 years, New York's finest purveyors of beautifully poetic upbeat angst-pop, My Favorite are no more. The band have broken up after frontwoman Andrea Vaughn left. From songwriter Michael Grace Jr.'s characteristically poetic communiqué:
After more than a decade of making music and memories together, life suggests (or demands) changes. And in the cracks that faith won't fill, fractures will occur. You can't build palaces upon rubble. Few things live forever. And that which does—never dies. Thus mourn judiciously, and celebrate what you can.
When I started down this road, all those years ago... a tender teenager in horn rimmed glasses and a second hand Fred Perry, surrounded by misfits and prophets, glue sniffers and geniuses... all I hoped to do was share something of the urgent loveliness and sadness of our lives, surrounded as we were by a plainness of architecture, and ugliness of spirit which defined the suburbs, and (sadly) much of America itself. There was almost something glamorous in defying it, in defining it, as we did. I was consumed with being that dark star, that obscure saint. I wanted to make an art that was as rainy and lush and real and spectral as the coastal towns that comforted us at twilight. I wanted to be a sword swallower, and nostalgia was to be my sword. I wanted to do something courageous.Grace is reportedly putting together a new band called The Secret History; which will be the New Order to My Favorite's Joy Division, or perhaps the Trembling Blue Stars to their Field Mice. I hope more the former than the latter. Anyway, I'll be looking out for it.
That leaves us with a partially recorded could-be masterpiece, one that never truly felt much like a My Favorite record to me in the end anyway. It is also an album which Andrea ended up not recording very much for. An unfinished novel missing a main character.
During the last two years of this band's shaky solidarity, I began to plan—sadly—for this moment. I wrote the name of an imaginary band called The Secret History in the margins of my New York Times. I thought of what I would do, what I could do, if I had to start again. In the next couple months, this will all begin to take shape; a new project, old faces, a new website and diary, a resurrection of the record, a search for a new Nico, a crime to end all crimes. The last battle.I had the good fortune to see My Favorite, once, when they played in London some three months before they broke up. It was a privilege I didn't have with the various favourite bands I discovered posthumously (such as Slowdive and The Field Mice), though it is bittersweet to think that that is it; that there is no more where that came from.
It looks like a label called Egg Records is rereleasing a bunch of Australasian indiepop recordings:
Even As We Speak "A 3 minute song is 1 minute too long" early Australian singles collection CD - Mastered, working on sleeve
The Bats - "The Bats at the National Grid". New LP from Flying Nun legends. In Production
Tonight, I saw Belle & Sebastian at the Barbican. The performance was one of several in the ATP Don't Look Back series, in which bands perform live renditions of their classic albums. For their turn, Belle & Sebastian did If You're Feeling Sinister.
The support band for this gig was Broadcast, who were excellent. They played a combination of new material and old (including Come On Let's Go), and played like a tight, finely-tuned groove machine. One got an impression of retrofuturism, as if their music (with its analogue fuzz, live drum grooves and clunky bass) was something out of a 1960s-vintage view of a shining, stylish future. Anyway, they're doing a gig at Koko in Camden on Wednesday as well.
Then Belle & Sebastian went on. They had 12 musicians on stage and an astonishing array of kit (including a xylophone or similar, an electric piano and a PowerBook they seemed to play software instruments on); one can see why they might need their own trucking company just to get all their stuff to gigs. They started off playing a few random songs (mostly from EPs, though including a rare live version of Electronic Renaissance, with two drummers), then went into If You're Feeling Sinister. There was a rather fitting muted trumpet solo at the end of Like Dylan In The Movies, and after The Fox In The Snow, Stuart recounted a dream he had about Isobel agreeing to play this gig if they kept a taxi running for her outside throughout the gig, before confessing to missing her, to the audience's sympathy. For Judy and the Dream Of Horses, the band got a number of people who had been dancing in the audience to dance on stage; afterward, they proceeded to play about half a dozen other songs, including a rousing version of The Boy With The Arab Strap. In total, they played for almost two hours.
It wasn't too unlike their Melbourne gig; at first it started with people sitting quietly in the seats and watching them, but ended up with people dancing in their seats and the aisles, clapping and singing along. Towards the end (in the middle of If You Find Yourself Caught In Love, Stuart paused the song and revealed that he could see many familiar faces in the crowd; he compared this to the end of episodes of The Simpsons. And, towards the end of The Boy With The Arab Strap, the line about "the cool set in London" was followed by applause.
Anyway, it was a brilliant gig. They were in fine form and put on an excellent show.
The top 100 indiepop albums, according to an Italian website. The descriptions are in Italian, though the choices look mostly quite sound. The top 3 are C86, one of the Sarah Records compilations and Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister, which sets the tone and gives an idea of the aesthetic involved. The rest doesn't disappoint: The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy is #11, #13 and #14 are Orange Juice and The Pastels, Japanese pop band 800 Cherries have #21, The Hummingbirds' loveBuzz takes #55 (and I didn't think anyone outside of Australia had heard of them; perhaps the next one of these that comes out will name-check Clag or Mid-State Orange), meanwhile Lush's Split has #67, Slowdive get #89 (along with what looks like an arch comment about the decline and fall of Creation), and The Radio Dept.'s Lesser Matters comes in at #83.
Last night, Your Humble Narrator went to Bush Hall to see Pipas and The Clientele.
Pipas were lovely as usual; it was mostly a guitar-based set (with two guitars), though with a few canned backings on an iPod. They did old and new songs, including some from their Bitter Club EP. (For those who haven't seen them, they're a melodious indie-pop duo, are signed to US twee/indiepop label Matinee, have played in Scandinavia a fair bit and Lupe is going out with one of the Lucksmiths, which should give you an idea of where they're coming from.)
The Clientele played, appropriately, in a darkened room, with video projected over them (several iterations of an art film they did the music for, with lots of footage of sunlight in water, English countryside and such, as well as Chris Marker's La Jetée). They mostly did songs from their new album which has just been released; they sounded much like their previous two albums, if perhaps a bit more animated in places. And Alasdair's vocals sound every bit as floaty live as they do on record. At one stage, Lupe joined them on stage and read out a spoken-word piece about a photograph from 1982, as they played.
As one would expect, where was a good number of international-indiepop-underground coolsie types in the audience, with their bowl haircuts, black-framed glasses and button badges; in their late 20s and 30s, the audience for these sorts of gigs is half a generation older than today's post-post-ironic electro/new-new-wave/kill-the-whiteness-inside/disco-rock kids, and the milieu around this sort of scene seems, in some ways, to hearken back to an earlier age of indiepop, when one was more likely to encounter the adjective "summery" than "angular" in record reviews, understated pop songs with wet lyrics were an authentic reaction against the macho rockism of the "alternative" mainstream rather than part of the Coldplay/Keane AOR mainstream, the kids hadn't yet gotten into hip-hop, cocaine or trucker hats, and if you wanted to make music in your bedroom, you used guitars, Casio keyboards and a four-track, rather than a laptop. Or something.
That world seems to have since superseded by punk disco, ironic chav, the New Rockism, the NME garage rock revival, the Carling New Wave, spending hundreds on brand-name fashion, and relying on one's hipster knowingness as a free get-out-of-jail card, good for all crimes of unenlightenment from casual racism to meretricious consumerism. Or not quite; the mercenary mainstream was always there, and there is also always an underground; it's just easier to see yesterday's underground than today's. Partly because yesterday's underground gets recycled into, or referenced by, today's mainstream: the UK indie explosion of the 1980s gave us Britpop gave us Robbie Williams, XTC begat the Kaiser Chiefs, The Little Band scene gave us JJJ grunge gave us Killing Heidi, and such. Meanwhile, something new is always forming on the margins; and when the margins are strip-mined to death by corporate cool-hunters, something new forms off the map.
C86, a compilation tape released in 1986 by NME (then a more leftfield, not to mention left-leaning, paper than the meretricious publication we see today) ended up giving a name to a whole genre of shambolic, wet jangle-pop and influencing everything from Sarah Records to Belle & Sebastian to commercial alternative music, is now online in downloadable MP3 form. I can recommend Primal Scream's Velocity Girl, The Bodines' Therese, the Shop Assistants' It's Up To You and the surreal head trip that is Stump's Buffalo. The Half Man Half Biscuit track isn't bad either, though, not having grown up in England in the 1980s, I don't get the references. Actually, you may as well get the whole lot and make up your own mind.
As someone pointed out in the comments, it's about time someone put up the preceding NME cassette, C81, which features significant post-punk/new-pop artists such as Pere Ubu, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Cabaret Voltaire and the Buzzcocks.
And what is today's answer to C81 and C86? Well, don't look to anything quite so groundbreaking NME for it; the closest they'd give you would be things like NME Britpack, with the latest watered-down, sharp-suited Gang Of Four/Duran Duran copyists, tediously derivative retro-rockists like Razorlight and Yourcodenameis:Milo and, of course, Dionysiac Genius of Rock, Pete Doherty.
As usual, here is my purely subjective roundup of albums/EPs of the past six months. Some are new, some are older, but all are things I obtained in the past six months and (in the case of things a few years old), by bands I only recently discovered. This list is, of course, completely subjective; you may disagree, but to paraphrase a Lush lyric, maybe you're right but this is my blog.
- Minimum Chips, Sound Asleep (Sound Malfunction); the long-awaited new 7-track EP/album from the Chips actually came out in 2004, but I only got it this year on account of being abroad. It wasn't a disappointment. Seven tracks, with their trademark tight, jaunty grooves, clunky bass lines, vintage electric organs, glockenspiels, trombones and Nicole's vocals, recorded with the perfectionistic production values their EPs are known for. It varies from twee to angular, and ends with a 1-minute explosion of krautrock-tinged noise.
- The Rumours, We Are Happy (Cavalier Records); tight guitar pop in a classic vein from the Melbourne band, with songs of unrequited love, hopes, fears and moments, delivered in a very Australian pure-pop sensibility; hearing this in the London winter was like sunshine in aural form.
- Sambassadeur, Between The Lines (Labrador); a 4-track EP from a Swedish indiepop group. Elements of C86/Sarah Records-style fey indiepop and shoegazer. Jangly guitars, handclaps, tambourines, catchy pop harmonies and low-key vocals with lyrics (in English) about watching the northern lights and just enough reverb/delay and the odd bit of Mary Chain-esque skronk. I look forward to the album (which is out in Sweden and awaiting a UK release through local shoegazer indie AC30).
- Laura, Mapping Your Dreams (Alone Again). I heard this when walking past Perfect post-rock; evocatively atmospheric moodscapes of layered guitar, driving basslines, drums and the odd synth, glockenspiel and murmured vocal, with not a note out of place. Not too far from Mogwai territory via inner-north Melbourne, and strays into Prop territory in one track. Simply sublime.
- July Skies, The English Cold (Make Mine Music); sparse, evocative post-rock soundscapes of minimalist reverb-washed guitar, and understated vocals; like a more understated Piano Magic circa Artists' Rifles, with a bit of late-period Slowdive; this is a concept album, ostensibly about the southern English countryside at the outbreak of World War 2, with song titles like Farmers And Villagers Living Within The Shadow Of Aerodromes, Strangers In Our Lanes and Countryside of 1939.
- Robin Guthrie/Harold Budd, Music from the film Mysterious Skin (Commotion); Guthrie's most sublimely ethereal work since Victorialand; works beautifully within the film, and manages to stand on its own too.
- My Favorite, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives (Double Agent Records); indiepop that's like synthpop with guitars, bass and live drums. Shimmering guitar, keyboards reminiscent of OMD or 1980s New Order, the odd melancholy piano, overlaid with alternate male/female vocals. Beneath the sweetness and light there is a darnkess and a deep melancholy; the pure-pop sweetness of Andrea's voice melds incongruously with the lyrical subject matter of suburban alienation, mental illness, violence and loss; the monochromatic booklet with its post-rock-esque blurry photographs and essay about the ghost of Joan of Arc as the original emo kid, adding even more incongruity. It also comes with a second disc of synthpoppy remixes, including one by Future Bible Heroes.
- Trademark, Want More (Truck Records). Theatrical, somewhat spoddy and ever-so-slightly facetious synthpop from three English blokes in labcoats. Parts of it border on goth-club material, with cold, industrial distortion, melodrama in a minor key and Depeche Mode affectations, whilst others head into Human League/OMD club-pop territory, and the rest of it being not unlike Baxendale; polished, clever and very English. The songwriting is nimble, with plenty of wordplay, and the arrangements and production are impeccable, using the medium to its full expressive potential and keeping things interesting. And it features songs equating emotions with oscillator waveforms, and a love song with the words "simple harmonic motion"; how can you go wrong?
A comprehensive history of 1980s UK indie band Stump, probably best known for their surrealistic song "Buffalo" (you know, the one with the "HOW MUCH IS THE FISH! DOES THE FISH HAVE CHIPS!" chorus) on the C86 compilation, by former Stump bassist Kev Hopper. (Aside: I wonder how hard it'd be to find a copy of A Fierce Pancake.)
The Age has a piece on Melbourne coolsie darlings Architecture In Helsinki:
"I think people find that we're really pretentious," says Sutherland cryptically, "or they find that we're really unpretentious."
"To me," he says, "Fingers Crossed was the sound of a band working out what they were doing. There was always a lot of criticism of the naivety on it, but that naivety was totally genuine, because really none of us had any preconceived idea about what we were actually doing when we stood in front of the microphone."
It has always been my contention that AIH would probably sound better in a few albums' time. Fingers Crossed, IMHO, had one really good track on it, and the rest was filler (albeit of an overly twee, fluffy, sugar-coated sort); the fact that the band weren't particularly tight musicians (they did sound like a high-school band, or perhaps the Clifton Hill Very Special Childrens' Choir) didn't help. Having said that, their new album, In Case We Die, sounds interesting:
There's the '70s tropicalia of Need to Shout, the bubblegum pop and Monster Mash-style doo-wop of The Cemetery, the stately piano grandeur of Maybe You Can Owe Me and the synth-pop fizz of first single, Do the Whirlwind. Bird says In Case We Die is a result of the band becoming match-hardened since Fingers Crossed.
I asked at Rough Trade about Architecture In Helsinki, and they hadn't heard of them. It seems that the only Australian bands that get a following here are NME/Xfm/Carling darlings like Jet and more traditional pastoral indie-popsters like The Lucksmiths. I may have to get someone in Australia to send a copy of the album over.
The Australian indie-pop marketplace now has more competition, with a new mail-order outfit and record label in Fortitude Valley opening. Taking the time-honoured indie-pop strategy of having a literary name (see also: Library Records, Chapter Music, and numerous bands), Book Club Records has their own releases and overseas imports (including Tender Trap, Amelia "Talulah Gosh/Heavenly" Fletcher's latest project), with postage being free in Australia. They also have a page of MP3s free for the download, which includes Barcelona's "I Have The Password To Your Shell Account". (via Rocknerd)
It's interesting to look at their links page. Among the usual indie labels and stores, there is an Other section, which features 4ZZZ, LiveJournal, and, um, Manchester United. The last addition seems puzzling, looking at the site from the UK; no-one here would associate football with the indie-pop subculture, and Man.U, one of the biggest and highest in profile of clubs, doubly so. Mind you, it appears the be the usual indiekid-Anglophilia phenomenon, where any and all affectations of British everyday versimilitude are more indie than the local variety. This has been commented on in the past, in observations of American indie fans who are into everything one can slap a union flag on, from Blur to Oasis to Fatboy Slim to Mogwai; not to mention appropriations of British slang, sometimes with unintentionally comical results (I mean, "Shag Frenzy" sounds more like a tabloid headline about suburban swingers' parties than a name for an indie night). With that in mind, I wonder how long until indie kids in America and Australia start imitating the chav phenomenon to get that imported-from-Britain boost to their indie cred.
Anyway, I'll probably end up picking them up, for the handful of songs not on the Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way retrospective released by Shinkansen some years back (now also out-of-print), and also for the liner notes which they are said to have.
Recordings of 2004
- Morrissey, You Are The Quarry. Moz is back, and in fine form. His youthful alienation is turning into the crankiness of a lonely old man, but he still can write a good song (and give a good show).
- Pipas, Bitterclub. A new EP from this London electropop duo; A classy mixture of indiepop vocals, glitchy beats and guitars.
- The Radio Dept., Lesser Matters. Well-crafted indiepop with guitars, synths, Casio drum loops, good chord progressions and songwriting and just the right amount of Kevin Shields influence.
- Talkshow Boy, Watch As I Perform My Own Tracheotomy. Apparently not out yet, though I got an advance copy, and it's a cracker of an album. It's 20 tracks along the same lines as the Ice Police single; glitchy yet catchy electropop with razor-sharp stream-of-consciousness lyrics and titles like Ruff Lovin' In A Tuff Neighbourhood, Go Hard Or Go Home (I Wanna Tweak Yr Moog) and OMG I <3 Livejournal (And My Livejournal <3's Me).
And a few other mentions, honourable and otherwise. The new Stereolab album, Margerine Eclipse was good, though no track leapt out at me in quite the way that various tracks from previous releases have done. The long-awaited New Buffalo album was, to be honest, a bit disappointing; in building her home studio, Sally seems to have mislaid her analogue drum machine, and gone away from the layered glitchiness which made About Last Night (and early live versions of many of the songs) such a delight. Meanwhile, Björk's Medulla didn't grab me; making tracks entirely out of voice samples is an interesting experiment, though the result I'm not sure about. And then there were all the calculatedly commercial post-Interpol/Franz Ferdinand bands like The Killers.
There are a few recordings released in 2004 which I didn't get to check out properly before the end of the year, such as Minimum Chips' Sound Asleep, the Arcade Fire's Funeral and the new Styrofoam. Or, indeed, the new Interpol album. My excuse is that a lot of the money which would have gone on CDs was instead squandered on food and rent in one of the world's most expensive cities; I'll probably catch up on them in the first half of 2005.
Some other bands I discovered this year: GirlsAreShort (a Canadian electropop act), Remington Super 60/Nice System (a Norwegian lounge-pop/bossa-pop outfit), a wealth of British indie from the late 1980s and 1990s, including parts of the Sarah Records back-catalogue I hadn't heard (of) before (key bands being The Wake, The Bodines, and various bands from the Sound of Leamington Spa compilation series) and Azure Ray (an all-female indie duo from Nebraska). Not to mention an appreciation of Electric Six's, Fire (they're like the Scissor Sisters with balls or something; tacky but fun).
Top gigs of 2004 (in alphabetical order):
- BAM BAM in a backyard in Fitzroy in April. I was blown away by their energy and musicianship. They rock hard and look sharp, and if anyone deserves to make it big, it's them. And it looks like things are happening for them.
- Belle & Sebastian at the Palais in St Kilda. Easily the gig of the year. They tore the roof off the place. People were dancing in the aisles and all. The band bantered with the audience, did an AC/DC cover, and at one stage, a girl from the audience got up on stage, sang the vocals from Lazy Line Painter Jane with them and did a perfect job of it.
- Le Tigre at the Islington Academy (in London, natch). Half of it was prerecorded (though they did play guitars/keyboards and sing), though the visuals and stage performance were good to behold.
- The Chickfactor Mon Gala Papillons night in Shepherd's Bush (also in London). Stevie Jackson from Belle & Sebastian did a few quite nice songs, and Pipas took their act to the stage.
- The Radio Dept., at Barfly, Camden. They're as good live as on record.
- Radiohead at the Rod Laver Arena (back in Melbourne again). Gigs at arenas usually suck, because of the binoculars factor, but Radiohead put on a good show, despite Thom's voice faltering somewhat. Their use of the video screens was quite creative too.
- Schmoof, at the Water Rats in London. Slick if slightly silly tongue-in-cheek electropop with rock theatrics worthy of Spinal Tap and visuals handcoded in BASIC on a ZX Spectrum.
Not to mention multiple gigs by various excellent Melbourne bands, including The Rumours, Season and City City City, not to mention the aforementioned BAM BAM and Talkshow Boy.
It looks like Minimum Chips have a new EP out. (It may have come out as early as September, or may be coming out tomorrow; not being in Melbourne makes it hard to notice these things.) Anyway, it has 7 tracks, and is as close to an album as the Chips get.
(Hint to friends in Australia: it'd make an excellent birthday present. That or the Dogs In Space DVD that should be out soon.)
And by the way, they seem to have MP3s of some sort of their entire back-catalogue on their web site. The site hosting them seems to be down, though, so I've no idea whether they're complete tracks or excerpts, or at what bitrate.
This evening, Your Humble Narrator went to the first night of Mon Gala Papillons, a two-day indie-pop festival organised by Chickfactor, at a rather plush music hall in Shepherd's Bush named, appropriately enough, Bush Hall.
First up was Amy Linton, of Aislers Set fame; she strummed an electric guitar and played/sang a few songs, and was quite good. Seeing her brought back some memories; the last time I saw her play was in a backyard in Clifton Hill, when Stewart and Jen were honeymooning/holidaying/touring in Australia.
Next up were a female duo from New York named Mascott. Their set started with one of them (Margaret) on stage, playing violin, as the other played a grand piano (located in front of the stage) and sang. The first song was lovely; it reminded me a bit of another New York resident, Greta Gertler. Afterward, the pianist took the stage and picked up a guitar. Some of the other songs were quite nice, though I thought that the first one stood above them all.
Third on was a solo set from Stevie Jackson, of Belle & Sebastian. He went up on stage, smartly dressed in a suit and tie, and started off playing Ode To Joy on the harmonica, before launching into his own numbers. He didn't play any Belle & Sebastian songs that I recognised; mostly his own songs, and mostly ones about girls (because, as he explained, he likes girls). The songs included "Portland, Oregon", "Phone In My Head" (which was particularly nice), and "Lonely Pop Star", as well as a Belle & Sebastian-style rendition of Frosty the Snowman (which someone requested), and a song he said he learned from Alex Chilton toward the end.
Then on came electro-pop duo Pipas, a girl with shortish brown hair in a stripy top and a guy with a bowlie haircut and glasses in a chequered shirt. They had a PowerBook on stage, which they mostly used to play backing tracks (and a bit of keyboards), over which they played guitar and bass and sang, performing songs off their recent EP and past albums. They were a little shambolic, but generally pretty good.
Finally, the Television Personalities came on. I was expecting them to be like XTC or Wire or The Fall or someone, but they were more Mod-revivalist, right down to the bassist having a Royal Air Force roundel and Vespa logo on his bass.
(Apologies for the crappy photos; I left my PowerShot G2 at home, and had only my futurephone to take photos with. I really need to get a decent camera that fits comfortably in a pocket and gives me no excuse to not take it to gigs.)
Band discovery of the day: Remington Super 60. They're a Norwegian electronic/indiepop outfit, and sound somewhere between Spearmint, the Beach Boys and Lacto-Ovo, with perhaps a bit of Röyksopp in the mix somewhere. Lots of nice 7th chords, warbly synths, vocal harmonies and the occasional 1980s-video-game bleeps. They also have an album out as Nice System, and a remix EP with some unusual remixers (gothtekkno heavy-hitters Apoptygma Berzerk are one, and Solex is another).
A massive index of indie MP3s, all legally posted by bands and/or their labels. Includes Azure Ray, Black Box Recorder (including Child Psychology), Le Tigre, The Radio Dept., Pipas, computer-club electropopsters Barcelona (including their hit I Have The Password To Your Shell Account), and coolsie-disco favourite Michael Jackson, and many more. (via stephen_cramer)
Yes! The entire back-catalogue of the greatest English indie band ever, The Field Mice, is being rereleased on CD, by LTM (they're the outfit who specialise in obscure Factory Records rereleases and such). The CDs will be Snowball + Singles, Skywriting + Singles and For Keeps + Singles, and will feature unreleased tracks and detailed biographical notes (I wonder how they'll differ from Clare Wadd's candid writeup of the Mice's history in the Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way booklet.)
If Architecture In Helsinki were furries, they'd probably be something like this band.
The Guardian has an article on 1980s C86 indiepop, talking to the likes of Matt Haynes and Amelia Fletcher (complete with current job descriptions), and mentioning the current London indie night How Does It Feel To Be Loved and the recently released Rough Trade Shops Indiepop 1 compilation, and mentioning a revival of this aesthetic (and about time too):
The indiepop sound - in its classic form, an awkward collision between the Byrds, the Ramones and cut-price Phil Spector - has been asking, rather diffidently, for some attention for a while. Belle and Sebastian owe an explicit debt to the so-called "shambling" bands of the mid-80s, and the return of Morrissey this year suggests a renewed appetite for guitar music that champions uncertainty above aggression. Franz Ferdinand bear an uncanny resemblance to indiepop pioneers Orange Juice and Josef K. And now a new compilation in the excellent Rough Trade Shops series has brought together 46 songs that will catapult listeners back to 1986, the high water mark of indiepop.
That sense of self-reliance was what punk had been meant to be about. Indiepop put it into practice: for all its apparent amateurishness, C86 made politics a practical matter. Even more importantly, it allowed women a place in music that more apparently ideologically sound movements had not. "The political aspect has been neglected," says Amelia Fletcher, who was lead singer with Talulah Gosh (and is now director of economic and statistical advice and financial analysis at the Office of Fair Trading). "It was very, very open to women. Although it wasn't overtly political, women felt involved because musicianship wasn't at a premium: you could make the music you wanted to the extent you were able."
The very things the critics objected to - the childishness, the complete absence of testosterone, the Luddism - were political acts. What better way to reject the phallocentrism of rock than to deny masculine values? And why not invest the tired concept of the "generation gap" with some actual meaning by adopting badges of childhood rather than incipient adulthood?
Btw, some people may find it amusing that one of the bands on Indiepop 1 is called Eggs.
Belle & Sebastian: not just a band, but your one stop shop for coolsie lifestyle accessories, from flight bags to--wait for it--trucker caps, all carrying the Belle & Sebastian brand (which could well be the next Paul Frank or something). The only thing they're missing is gas-station attendants' shirts.
And for the mono.net set, they have this badge of a very twee-looking bird kicking an egg.
There's a new addition on the Lost Treasures page; Jelly CD, a compilation of some of Lora/Laura Macfarlane's early projects' EPs, has now joined Clag's Manufacturing Resent in the world of MP3 files.
London-based indiepop band Spearmint are offering a new downloadable single. The mail says it's an MP3 (and not some kind of DRM-crippled Windows Media file or what have you), and will set you back one quid, including artwork. (That includes VAT, which presumably they'll deduct if you're not in the EU.) Or, for £2.50, you can get it and singles by two other bands on the hitBACK label (The Free French and Host).
Someone has put up an online petition to get Talkshow Boy as a support for the upcoming Belle & Sebastian show. Hmmm... it'd be a tad more interesting than one of the more obvious candidates, like, say, the Lucksmiths or Architecture In Helsinki. Whether the organisers would take notice, of course, is another matter (after all, just a year or so ago, the organisers of the Interpol gig chose to fly some band over from Perth rather than give the support slot to Love Of Diagrams; tour organisers work in mysterious ways).
A quick review of various items which arrived at my PO box today:
- Various artists, "Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware": a Smiths tribute album featuring mostly guitar-based jangly indie-pop bands who can probably trace their lineage back to Manchester's Finest. They're not bad, though many of them don't add much in the way of new ideas to the originals; don't look for too many radical reinventions here. Brazilian band Pale Sunday's bossa-tinged take on I Know It's Over is quite good, Anglo-Spanish popsters Pipas do a slightly dubby take on This Night Has Opened My Eyes and Jason Sweeney does a good Morrissey impression over bedroom electronics. Meanwhile, Australia's national indie band The Lucksmiths' take on There Is A Light That Never Goes Out sounds much like the original, only as a duet, deviating from the master about as much as Neil Finn's version from some time ago, while The Guild League's take on Panic has a jaunty, slightly brass-bandish take on it. The liner, by someone from The Snowdrops (who cover Bigmouth Strikes Again) notes are much the usual autobiographical tale of growing up awkwardly in the bedsits of Thatcher's England with one's Smiths records. (via Traffic Sounds.)
- Harvey Williams, California: I had the MP3s for this, and decided to get the CD. In the decade or so between Another Sunny Day (who brought us bedsit anthems like Anorak City and the unforgettable You Should All Be Murdered; check the filesharing nets for them) and this 1999 release, Harvey Williams had mellowed somewhat, bringing a CD of piano ballads, both touching and satirical, with a wry, and very English, turn of phrase, about the usual boy/girl situations. In a parallel universe, some of these have probably been picked up by Working Title for a London-based Gwyneth Paltrow romcom and Harvey has become the next Badly Drawn Boy. But there are some nice tracks here; the Bacharachesque instrumental Introducing..., for one.
- The Autocollants, Why Can't Things Just Stay The Same?. Lo-fi sweet indie-pop which starts off OK, though sounds a bit samey in places. Perhaps it's the production (the guitars sound like they were recorded on a four-track in someone's bedroom), or perhaps Laura Watling's voice is just that much too breathy for prolonged listening.
- Stereolab, 2004 Tour CD: whilst the groop don't look like visiting Australia this year, a copy of this 3" disc has made it into my hands courtesy of an American source (ta, bfd!). Contains three tracks, with the exquisitely Labbish titles "Banana Monster Ne Répond plus", "Rose, My Rocket-Brain!" (subtitled "Rose, Le Cerveau Electronique De Ma Fusée!"), and "University Microfilms Limited". And, yes, it's quite good; this isn't mere filler. The first track has an epic, multipartite quality akin to the best of the Lab, in its 5 and a half minutes, the second one sounds like the output of an automatic Stereolab song generator (in a good way), and the third one's not bad either.
I also got a copy of that CD of HP Lovecraft-themed retro fonts. Had I paid any more for it, I'd be disappointed; some of the letter spacing is a bit inconsistent, and more annoyingly, all the fonts have "HPLHS" as the style (where "Bold", "Italic" and so on should be), with the different weights and slants in each family showing up as separate faces. I suspect that the designers are not professional typographers (btw, who would call a font "Italic"?)
A mostly comprehensive database of indie pop bands, divided into 15 categories ("60s influenced pop", "twee pop", "lo-fi", "jangle pop", "C-86", and so on). Some of the categorisations seem a bit off (I'd have classified Broadcast as "60s", or perhaps "international pop", rather than "synthpop", and as for the Field Mice being "slowcore"...); this is the sort of document that could spark hours of debates between record shop clerks and people in button-badged trucker caps, about issues such as whether Saint Etienne are "Polished/International/Euro Pop" or "Club Pop". Anyway, it's full of leads I'm going to have to follow up...
A pretty good explanation of the C86 phenomenon; the trend in UK indiepop that emerged in the 1980s, took its name from a NME compilation tape, and gave rise to labels such as Sarah Records, and later influenced everyone from Belle & Sebastian to the extensive US twee/indiepop scene of the 1990s and today. (found on LiveJournal)
C86 was a subculture and a fanzine culture (Kvatch, Sha-la-la and Are You Scared To Get Happy?). It spoke to alienated teenagers bored with mainstream culture and hooked on DIY lo-fi sensibilities, an almost asexual child-like affectation, Sixties pop and girl groups, seven-inch singles, bedsit socialism and a romantic, pastoral, holding-hands vision of England.
The influences are basically classic, melodic pop music from any era. The most obvious ones are The Go-Betweens, Aztec Camera, The Smiths and Orange Juice. Other icons include fanzine writers Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd (who set up Sarah) and Mathew Fletcher (the Talulah/Heavenly drummer who tragically committed suicide in 1996). Alan McGee would have been an icon if he hadn't committed so many crimes against pop music since.
Browsing the Shelflife website, I discovered that there's a Spanish indie band named Moving Pictures. They're described as "Sarah Records-esque bossa pop", and thus are presumably nothing like the eponymous 1980s Australian band best known for the classic yoof-angst anthem "What About Me?".
US indie/twee-pop label Kindercore is dead, shutting down their New York office and cancelling upcoming albums. Fortunately, the back-catalogue will remain in print. Cause of death is attributable to some combination of (a) poor market conditions, (b) MP3 piracy (now look what you kids have done!) and (c) the new-rock revival making twee indie-pop about as fashionable as accordion polka.
I only bought a few things from them, but it's still a pity to see them go.
A special treat for the indie-pop fans today: Clag's Manufacturing Resent 7", released in 1993 and quite rare these days, is now online in high-definition MP3 format. Enjoy the twee indie-pop goodness.
The Onion interviews Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian:
Q: O: What made you want to be an airline pilot?
SM: It's the kind of random job when you're that age. You never really seem to get beyond being a fireman or a policeman or an airline pilot, that sort of thing. One of the three. Actually, I don't like flying, so now it seems kind of funny to me. It would be one of my least favorite jobs now. Still, I would much rather be flying the plane than the steward. I mean, if I'm going to die, I'd rather have a hand in my own death.
O: A Hard Day's Night is on the list of your favorite films. If someone were to make a film about a day in the life of Belle And Sebastian, what would it be like?
SM: I think it'd be really boring. I'm not sure anybody would want to see it. It'd be a lot of us sitting around talking.
Today, I received in the mail a copy of the 7" Manufacturing Resent, by Clag, an indie-pop band from Brisbane in the early 90s. The album was recorded almost exactly 10 years ago (the sleeve says September 1993), and consists of six shortish songs; it spins at 33 1/3 RPM, presumably a common indie trick to squeeze more on a cheap 7".
The songs tend towards the twee indie-pop side of things, though the naïve, childlike lyrics (which probably make Architecture In Helsinki look like Burzum or someone by comparison) are underscored by very polished and competent pop arrangements. The two sides of the raspberry-cordial-red vinyl single are labelled the "Happy Side" and "Scarey Side" (sic.), with appropriate drawings in an underground-comics style on the labels.
The "Happy Side" starts with Goldfish, a song about vaguely anthropomorphic goldfish ("look look look in the goldfish bowl and they'll look right back at you"); the lyric about them having a party, eating gelati and drinking Bacardi reveals the song's Queensland origins; were the song written in Melbourne, the partying goldfish would probably have been drinking vodka or Melbourne Bitter or something. The knowing way the singer sings "at the little girly fish the boys will be glancing" is worth it in itself; though I'm not sure about the gargling solo. The icthyan theme continues in the more downbeat Paranoid ("fish have eyes they're following me, yeah, don't know why they bother with me, don't they know I'm bo-o-ring?"). The side ends with a song about a security guard at a shopping centre, with some nice almost ska-ish trombone.
The "Scarey Side" starts with "Barberella Part 1", presumably a homage to the Jane Fonda film. Then there's "Cow", with lyrics like "cow, c-c-c-c-cow cow cow cow, dog d-d-d-dog dog dog dog", and finally a slightly more meaningful song named Chips & Gravy.
The sleeve folds out to reveal a page of lyric fragments, random graffiti-like phrases ("What do you mix powdered water with?") and drawings (such as the Triple J logo with "Triple 6" underneath it), copyright-violating drawings of cartoon characters and even some cut-up text about the pathology of atonal music.
Oh yes; the Chomsky reference in the title. Chomsky is mentioned in the graffiti inside the sleeve, and the credits thank him "and social engineers the world over". However, that is is about as political as this record gets; there is no politics or social commentary, radical or otherwise, in the lyrics. Unless, of course, there is some sneaky subliminal subversion buried within the twee-pop lyrics and arrangements, designed to subconsciously instil political consciousness over repeated listenings to the ostensibly innocent lyrics. (Which is an interesting tangent for speculation; though if someone was to do that, they'd presumably choose a vector more likely to reach mass audiences; top-40 dance-pop, perhaps? Perhaps, in a more paranoid parallel universe (or a Philip K. Dick novel), such a record could have been an ideal test of subliminal persuasion/mind-control technologies; a low-profile, low-risk dry run before the personnel involved got new identities and jobs at major labels churning out boy bands? Actually, perhaps I'll use that idea in a story sometime...)
But yes; Clag's Manufacturing Resent is a charming piece of twee indie-pop. Last time I checked, 3 Beads of Sweat in Chicago were selling copies for US$2 plus shipping; they may still have some, but if they're all gone, I'm afraid you're on your own. Unless some kind soul posts MP3s somewhere or something.
I'm currently listening to Jelly CD, a compilation (released around 1995) of EPs from various projects one Lora (now Laura) Macfarlane was involved in in the early 90s (notably the Sea Haggs, Keckle and some of her solo material). It's rather interesting; it's similar, in places, to the first Ninetynine album (funny, that), all jagged guitars, garage-rock vocals and power-pop songwriting, though with a few oddities thrown in (quite a few of the tracks end with the sound of a radio being tuned between channels), and the odd cute indie melody here and there. There's a bit of chromatic percussion (often sounding rather discordant), though no Casio keyboards. The most interesting tracks, though, would be some of Lora's solo pieces; in particular, Boot, which eschews the pop-song format for thrashy acoustic guitar chords and abstract soprano vocals alternating between pretty and deranged. This is immediately followed by a pop song about the theft of a woollen beanie.
Sydney's public radio landscape is looking like a bit less of a wasteland, now that FBi Radio, a new community FM station along the lines of PBS/RRR, has opened. The initial programming looks quite promising; Peter Hollo has a programme on Sunday nights, playing glitchy laptop electronica and such, and Leigh of Traffic Sounds has an indie programme on Monday nights. There's also something called The Discordian Hour, but it appears to be a drugmusic mix of some sort, and not an Hour of Slack-style bulldada programme.
Music heard today:
- Cartwheel, Yellow Keys - a recent 7" release by an Australian act. An electric guitar phrase looped over a fast drum machine and synth bass; slightly reminiscent of acts like Foil and some of Ollie Olsen's projects before he got into drugmusic, only crossed with an indie-pop aesthetic; one could file this alongside Stereolab or Minimum Chips.
- Clag, Goldfish. From a 7" by this Brisbane indie-pop band, from sometime in the 90s. Look look look in the goldfish bowl there are purple fish and green fish and pleasant fish and mean fish. The bowl will be rocking and the fish will be dancing, at the little girly fish the boys will be glancing. Quite possibly the most twee thing ever committed to vinyl, but it works. I'm still not sure about the gargling solo though.
- Piano Magic, Low Birth Weight. I'm really going to have to get this; it's quite good, in a somewhat muted shoegazer/postrock vein.
I also managed to hear a preview of the upcoming I Want A Hovercraft EP, and it sounds quite promising, with some very nice post-rock instrumental moments.
Tonight's Bidston Moss gig was fun. They played a set of almost 1 hour, and played some new songs and some old ones, with the one who isn't Beth whose name escapes me climbing the foldback and rocking out. And they put in (a very gentle version of) the first verse from the Pixies' Debaser in one of their songs (along with the New Order reference in Armadillo), which was cool. And the free bag of lollies at the door was a nice touch.
I only saw them and Mrs. Pinkwhistle, who seemed to have had too much to drink. They horsed around on stage, cracked dick jokes which didn't even make sense, and at one stage couldn't decide which key a song was in. Maybe they're usually better, but I wasn't impressed.
(Funny how some people can drunkenly clown around on stage and pull it off but others can't. Stewart Anderson (of Boyracer and 555 Recordings fame) can (like that gig last year, when he ended up spontaneously helping the drummer out on the kit), but Mrs. Pinkwhistle fell flat. Maybe lay off the free drinks next time, lads.)
I managed to get my hands on a preview copy of the new Minimum Chips EP, Gardenesque, which is coming out in a few weeks through Trifekta (the Fitzrovian indie label that's also home to AIH, Gersey and the last Ninetynine album). The first three tracks are from the SBS Whatever Sessions, and thus have more of a live feel than the usual Chips recording (the band being noted studio perfectionists); the first two tracks (Friends and Sunny Spot) being somewhat mellow and laid-back and the third (Rounds) having more of a driving groove to it. There's a fair amount of angular krautrockish guitar riffs and choppy electric-organ chords here, as you'd expect from the Chips. The last track, titled Oooo after its entire lyrics, was put together seperately and has a somewhat more ambient, layered sound, with a xylophone and glitchy electronic percussion joining the usual electric organ; a bit of a departure from their earlier recordings, though still characteristically Chips. All in all, it's something worth keeping an eye out for in a few weeks when it hits the shops. (As it's distributed through FMR, your local JB Hi-Fi should be able to get it.)
The unthinkable has happened: Minimum Chips have gone into a recording studio for long enough to make a new EP. Granted, it took SBS to make them do it, but they ended up putting the tracks on an EP. Titled Gardenesque, it is believed to be their first recording since the track they did for the 555/Red Square Popfest compilation of last year.
Tonight, I followed BeTh's advice and went to see The Brunettes, a New Zealand indie-pop band who were playing at the Rob Roy. They were pretty good, playing a sort of '60s-retro bubble-gum pop, and doing it very well. Lots of jangly guitars and bongos and xylophones and doo-wop/shoobie-doobie-doo vocals and handclaps and harmony vocals and vintage keyboards (they had a Nord Electro on stage), and playing very tightly. They sounded somewhere between Spearmint and Birdie, and with a definite Phil Spector influence too.
The Smallgoods were also good, in a power-pop sort of vein. I didn't hang around to see Architecture In Helsinki, though, having other things to do.
My DJ set at Grand Music for Tiny Souls went quite well. I didn't play for very long (from a bit after 4 until around 8ish, in between bands; then a guy calling himself Tepid took over and brought his collection of laptop glitch electronica and such; he seemed like a pretty nice chap, and he does a weekly glitch/noise/drill'n'bass night at Pony on Tuesday nights; may have to show up to that). Also, this time the organisers provided the setup, and so I had access to a Denon DN-X800 mixer, much better mixer than the $125 Smack Converters special I usually use, and a DJ-oriented double CD deck. Ah, luxury.
(What did I play? A bit of UK indie-pop (The Field Mice, It's Jo and Danny, The Lollies, The Charm Offensive, Spearmint, Black Box Recorder and Belle & Sebastian all got a look in), a bit of shoegazer/dreampop/ethereal-type stuff (Lush, Slowdive, Parsley Sound), some antipodean acts (Architecture in Helsinki, Ninetynine, The Hummingbirds (the ones from the early 90s), The Chills, Ash Wednesday), a few old-sk00l acts (Joy Division, Pixies, Smiths), a few new things (the Interpol disc got a spin) and a few oddities (Dsico's Smells Like Electro, John Trubee's Blind Man's Penis Song, Denki Groove's Shangri-La).)
Some of the bands I saw there were quite good too; in particular, I Want A Hovercraft and Season (who are sounding a bit like Mogwai in places, in a good way). Unfortunately, I didn't get to stick around to see International Karate or Seascapes of the Interior, as the Love of Diagrams album launch was on the same night. Sometimes it'd be good to be in two places at once.
These records seem to be the most exceedingly twee thing in the history of recorded music. Judging by the packaging alone (handmade covers drawn by elementary school children, or pictures of smiling blob-shaped ponies carved out of brightly-coloured foam), they make Architecture in Helsinki look like Burzum or someone by comparison; and that's not even getting into the music. Some may find this a bit too much (it probably is), though if the present state of the world is making you feel sick, you could probably do worse than lock yourself in a well-lit pastel-coloured room with a good supply of Prozac and the MP3s on the page set to repeat. (via Largehearted Boy)
Ah yes; the Architecture in Helsinki gig last night was good. They played most of the songs off Fingers Crossed, including a longer version of One Heavy February with actual vocals. (That song will undoubtedly be an enigma to those who haven't seen them live.) They also had an assortment of hand-made merchandise, including a surfeit of button badges. (For AUP10, you could get a set of badges of Macintosh icon renderings of all the band's members; though I just got the two "Fingers Crossed" badges.)
(The support set by Ninetynine rocked hard, but you knew I was going to say that. And the dance number by those two birds with funny wigs and party poppers was somewhat amusing, in an art-schoolish post-ironic-hipster-kitsch sort of way; well, what I could make out of it over the heads of the crowd from the front of the other stage.)
I stopped by PolyEster today and picked up the last Sneeze album, Lost The Spirit To Rock & Roll. The cover artwork is pretty doovy; the album itself, however, is not what I was expecting. It sounds nothing like the jangle-pop of their earlier stuff, and instead goes on a soul/gospel kick, with the singer trying to sound like Otis Redding or someone (and pulling it off reasonably well, even if the faux-American diction is a bit irritating). Not really my cup of tea; however, some of the songs (which have titles like "Too Much Man To Be My Woman", or "Deaf Girl, Dumb Guy, Blind Love") are amusing enough to possibly end up in DJ sets.
(Speaking of DJ sets, if anybody here knows of a smallish, living-roomy venue in inner-north Melbourne interested in hosting a regular music night (indie pop, a bit of electronica and a few oddities here and there), let me know. Especially if they have Guinness on tap.)
Anyway, I'm still waiting for Sneeze's earlier 41 Songs in 47 Minutes, which is due in a whammo.com.au order, along with Happy Supply's Crucial Cuts. (Their web site suggested that they had it in stock, but I'm beginning to have my doubts.)
(Speaking of things I'm waiting for, the UPS people tell me that my Archos Jukebox Recorder will arrive on Monday.)
Today's InPress has a review of Architecture in Helsinki's new album, Fingers Crossed, comparing it to "Belle & Sebastian on Prozac", and suggesting that AIH may in fact be Belle & Sebastian in disguise. The review also makes references to Stereolab and Frente. Heh.
On the weekend, I heard a track by a band named Sneeze on the Empress Hotel's PA. (They were a sort of jangle-pop band signed to Half a Cow sometime in the 1990s, and sounded a bit like the Hummingbirds or Even As We Speak or somesuch.) I did a search for them on SoulSeek, but didn't find anything that looked like them. The search did, however, turn up a lot of sound effect files, with names like SNEEZE.WAV and sneezes male 02.mp3. Oh dear, I seem to have stumbled across some sort of parasexual fetish.
I also checked the Half a Cow website. Alas, Sneeze's 41 Songs In 47 Minutes is deleted. A rerelease is due in "late 2003", though. Interestingly enough, Swirl's The Last Unicorn, arguably the best Australian shoegazer album of all time, is still available (though the tracks are in a different order to my copy).
Last year, I saw an amusing indie duo from London named Partition at the Empress. I recently found out that they were back in Melbourne and doing more gigs, so I went to see them tonight at Good Morning Captain.
It was a fairly good gig; about 2 parts indie-pop and 1 part comedy. They did a number of good songs, the one about fancying some bird for 10 years and then going out with her for 2 weeks that they did last year (apparently it's a true story, too); one titled Emigrating Next Week, about the perils of falling in love with someone when you're about to move overseas, a few mildly political numbers (about war being bad and bigotry against deinstitutionalised mental patients; don't expect bolshy agitprop on the level of Jihad Against America or Stereolab or someone), and some rather amusing and deliberately daft interludes, in between dancing around bozotically.
They were joined on cello by one Sheila B, who's in a band named Fosca (think sort of like Baxendale only not quite as zany); she did a good job accompanying them.
Anyway, it emerged that the guys from Partition were at the Ninetynine gig in London in October, but we didn't run into each other. Probably because darkened caverns with loud music and black-painted walls aren't the best place to recognise someone you spoke to half a year ago in a different country; unless you expect them to be likely to be there, that is.
I wandered down to PolyEster this afternoon, and saw the new Massive Attack CD. Nice packaging; though pity it's not available on a CD (only on one of those copy-restricted non-Red-Book-compliant CD-like things). Bugger that then.
(The label on the packaging says that it works with Windows, presumably in some "secure" DRM mechanism. I can understand us Linux-using nonpersons being snubbed by the recording racket ("get a copy of Windows, you bum!"), but EMI's big fuck-you to the Macintosh-using audience, especially on a Massive Attack disc, is harder to justify. Let's hope they change their minds before releasing the next Morrissey record.)
(Btw, is 100th Window released in Red Book-compliant, non-"copy controlled" CD format in any other territories?)
I did, however, pick up the new Architecture in Helsinki album, Fingers Crossed. The packaging is very cool, and on first listen (six tracks in), it sounds pretty good, in a garage-indie-pop-meets-electronica vein. Some of the tracks sound a bit unpolished (though that's probably deliberate), though there are some real gems; especially Scissors Paper Rock; expect to hear that in one of my DJ sets, possibly next to some Stereolab or something.
(Btw, what is it about Casio-wielding indie bands naming songs after games? You had Lacto-Ovo's Bingo, Ninetynine's Cluedo and Uno, and now AIH have joined the trend.)
I also picked up Stereolab's Cobra and Phases Group... while I was there. With that, my Stereolab collection has doubled in size over the past week.
Things I found in my PO box today:
- Two CD-Rs containing demo tracks from The Charm Offensive (a very promising new indie-pop band I saw in London some months back). Interesting; their material sounds somewhere between Birdie or Blueboy or someone and Black Box Recorder without the sarcasm (though with the conspicuous Englishness left wholly intact). I'll probably play some Charm Offensive in one of my DJ sets.
- The photocopy edition of Cat and Girl #3, along with some stickers and button badges, and an amusingly useless leaflet showing bar/pie charts about the planets and their search engine statistics.
- A mobile phone bill
Last night, I went up to a small pub/venue named the Betsey Trotwood, in Farringdon Rd., EC1R, to see a band named The Charm Offensive. I found out about them a week ago, when Nicola (the vocalist) was handing out flyers at Bowlie Nite, and decided to go and see them. I was quite impressed. The band consisted of two guys with guitars (one acoustic and one electric), a female vocalist and a minidisc player with the obligatory drum tracks. Their sound was sort of sweet Sarah Records-esque indie-pop, of the sort you don't hear much of these days; jangly acoustic chords and quiet boy-girl harmonies and such. They sounded a little like Blueboy, or perhaps Even As We Speak. I hope we hear more from The Charm Offensive.
I went along to Bowlie Nite last night, which was rather fun. I caught up with a friend from Australia who's travelling for the next few months, and we went there, meeting up with some other people. It was in the basement level of a club in Chalk Farm Road, with three or so DJs taking turns and playing records (mostly indie pop and northern soul; they played a good track by a band named Felt, whom I must check out properly, as well as stuff like Stereolab, Black Box Recorder, Broadcast, Kings of Convenience and Belle & Sebastian). They also played some old Beach Boys records, which the friend I went with said reminded her of a country wedding she went to a while ago. The hip/daggy dichotomy strikes again.
The flyer said that people could bring their own records and the DJ may play them. I handed the DJ (the one calling herself The Hatster, who apparently came up with the whole night) a copy of the Field Mice's Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way (disc 2), and she played Emma's House.
Also, someone there was handing out flyers for a band named The Charm Offensive, who are playing next Thursday at some place called the Betsey Trotswood, in EC1R (wherever that is). If I'm in town (as opposed to, say, being rained on in the Orkneys or something), I might go to see them.
Anyway, Bowlie Nite was fun. I don't think there's anything quite like that in Melbourne. (There are "UK-indie" nights in bars, but they tend to go for the lowest common denominator approach and lump in everything from Oasis to Fatboy Slim to northern soul to electroclash under the union jack banner.)
Seen on a flyer picked up from a record shop in Islington:
1st Thursday of every month at Lounge Bar
Kid Sinead and Friends
With regular guests including:
Billy Reeves (BBC London Live)
Playing Bowlie favourites such as: Free Design, Mamas & Papas, Beach Boys, Young Marble Giants, Stereolab, Belle & Sebastian, Black Box Recorder, Broadcast and a Bowlie shaking selection of 60s/French Pop, Northern Soul, 50's Jives and varied records of sweet and melodic sounds, old, new & rare!
The obverse of the flyer has a drawing from an old children's book of a little boy and girl running along a street, with a Belle & Sebastian lyric printed over it.
Does anyone know what the word "Bowlie" means in this context? I get the feeling it's a (new?) name for a twee-pop subculture, but why Bowlie?
And a big hello to all my readers in the international indie-pop underground; in particular, to the Japanese indie kids coming here via this bulletin board. I don't know Japanese, but it appears to be some sort of indie-pop-related web BBS, with a rather twee colour scheme, some very kawaii-looking cat cartoons and some intriguing fragments of English text
The show starts at 8 p.m. MINISKIRT will play roughly 12 songs including their classics "Blue Contact Lenses" and "No Jesus No Coffee No Coffee No Jesus" and some new songs which they never played live before.
(I'm wondering whether "win a sheep free" is the name of a band, and if so, what they sound like).
The Babelfish translation sheds slightly more light on it, not to mention a few particularly doovy turns of phrase, such as "super luxurious gorgeousness".
Btw, if you came here looking for the photos from last weekend's Ninetynine CD launch, they're here.
Hmm... Ninetynine's The Process comes out on Monday, and chaosmusic.com already have a page for it. The track listing looks very promising (and the excerpts I've heard on 3RRR do too). The artwork doesn't seem to have the same indie-geeky quality of previous albums (they've ditched the graph paper, I see, along with the numerical album title thing), but it's probably appropriate, as their sound has become more fluid and organic and, dare I say, more mature.
Right now, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this disc.
I'm currently listening to some MP3s by The Bran Flakes. They're pretty amusing; a combination of twee electro-pop and post-ironic bulldada, combining beats and loops with samples of old children's records and various other spoken-word. In particular, the MP3 of "Record On Sex / Go Go Up" is worth a listen, sampling a somewhat creepy sounding sex-education record from (I'd say) the 1950s or so, with a somewhat menacing Patriarchial Authority Figure telling an alarmed-sounding Little Girl about erections and menstruation, before the whole thing turns into bootywhangular beats. Insane.
According to Angry Robot, US French-chick-fronted pop band Ivy's new record, due out in just over a month, will be entirely comprised of covers, including ony only The Go-Betweens' Streets of Your Town but also The Cure's Let's Go To Bed. The record will be titled Guestroom.
Ivy have apparently been dropped by Warner or Sony or whichever soulless behemoth had decided to refocus its declining revenues on cheaper-to-manufacture bubblegum pop and teen-angst skate-metal, and have been signed by an indieish label named Minty Fresh.
Today I picked up a copy of Belle & Sebastian's The Boy With The Arab Strap, after hearing it in the car when catching a lift back from Saturday's Ninetynine gig. (The advantage of living in North Fitzroy: people you catch lifts with are likely to have good stuff playing in the car.) I'm listening to it now, and it's growing on me. There are some quite catchy understated melodies there; I particularly like Sleep the Clock Around and Ease Your Feet In The Sea.
I didn't get into Belle & Sebastian a few years ago, when all the indiekids were wearing their I-own-Tigermilk badges, because I just didn't get them. I mean, I was into The Smiths, mostly because of Morrissey's sardonic miserablism and Wildean allusions (and probably living a socially isolated existence in Ferntree Gully had something to do with it), but B&S didn't scratch the same itch. Then again, I didn't quite get the concept of (indie-)pop sensibility back then either; it was a bit too subtle for me. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.