The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'my favorite'
I think the record is the equivalent of an honest, expressive film or novel…something people can spend a bit of time inside. I know it’s good. But those are not the kind of attributes that a lot of the Pitchfork side of indie culture values. They mostly want clever abstraction of a good idea or aesthetic from the past. Which is like the same thing say… a trendy clothier does. Presented by skinny young white people whenever possible. Which is also what a trendy clothier does actually. I mean all artists explore what’s been done before, that’s WHAT ART IS, but ideally on top of a foundation of intention, something with a bit of warm blood in it. Music like DIIV seems to just aggregate other good records and blur the meaningful bits that aren’t quite as easy to ape. Youth as the best car commercial ever. VICE on the other hand just promotes what I call ”transgression tourism”. Nothing entertains rich kids quite like the fucked up things poor people, or better yet, poor people of color do. But beyond that, people aren’t really looking to take chances with what they expose. Thus you get coverage for a whole label, with the same publicist whom essentially do the same thing. Honestly, soon we will only be thinking in 7 second intervals and real art will be something exchanged in the shadows like cigarettes or Levi jeans in the 60s Soviet Union.
So our plans are to try to get people to give a listen, and our dream is to be part of a wave of groups that starts a discussion about the state of ”overground” music in the boutique subculture. Capitalism has finally alienated us from our music. Rock n’ roll was actually one of the success stories of capitalism in the 20th century. But no longer. We need to demand poetry.
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.
And here are my records of 2005, in no particular order:
- Machine Translations, Wolf on a String*. Six tracks, subtle and impeccably produced, layering guitars, electronics and understated vocals, and with a great deal of thought in the arrangements and compositions. The title track is hauntingly lovely, and Miss China and Paris Road are low-key pop gems. The other three tracks are good too.
- Broadcast, Tender Buttons. Their last album was a bit bland compared to The Noise Made By People; this one is a return to form. It's like early Stereolab playing on a Game Boy, all sparse, motorik grooves, gloriously dirty aliased waveforms and Trish's dreamy vocals.
- Sambassadeur, Between The Lines EP. A four track EP, released in Sweden last year but the UK only this year, from another good Swedish indie band. They also released a quite decent album later this year, but for some reason, this grabbed me more. The title track of the EP is a joyous piece of upbeat indie-pop; the other tracks are fitting B-sides, pop songs with guitar, trumpet, melodica, and a bit of shoegazing feedback and Mary Chain-style fuzz.
- Holidays On Ice, Playing Boyfriends and Girlfriends* Classy, polished indie-pop from various established Australian musicians, including Angie Hart of Frenté/Splendid; has echoes of Yo La Tengo. Even though the idea of a group of thirtysomething Australian band veterans releasing a record with an unbelievably fey title and a naïve picture of kids playing in the snow (presumably somewhere in Northern Europe or North America) on the cover does seem a tad contrived, the product is eminently listenable. Highlights include the upbeat pop of Sailor Girl, Speak-n-Spell-driven semi-instrumental Spell Happiness, the board-game-referencing (though not AIH-referencing) glock-pop of Fingers crossed and some of the instrumentals.
- Minimum Chips, Kitchen Tea Thankyou* This one took me by surprise. After getting used to the Chips putting out one EP every few years, I did not expect them to drop an entire album one year after their last EP. But they did, and we get almost 50 minutes of Minimum Chips goodness: modular organ grooves, jagged guitar jangle, sophisticated Continental pop sounds filtered through Melbourne/Brisbane indie-rock, and Nicole's floating vocals, more "aaah" than "ba ba ba". ("Lady Grey", in particular, could be descibed as "Golden Brown", had it been written by Stereolab about tea rather than The Stranglers about heroin.) A few of the tracks were familiar from Minimum Chips gigs two years ago, and had only made it onto record now.
- Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd, the Mysterious Skin film score Possibly the best thing Guthrie has put out since Victorialand. Ethereal and moody, like golden sunlight in a dream. The film was quite good too (though somewhat more disturbing).
- The Winter Ship, Teardrops EP*. Four tracks of shoegazing post-rock goodness, with rather nice string arrangements, from the Melbourne instrumental outfit. Swimming Through A Narrow Space sounds not unlike Mogwai's Helicon 1 only with words. The other tracks are no less lovely.
Honourable mentions go to Architecture In Helsinki, In Case We Die, Broken Social Scene's self-titled album (which I received only in the last days of the year, too late to fully get into, though I get the feeling it may be a grower), LCD Soundsystem's self-titled album, The Magic Numbers' self-titled debut (which has some strong guitar-pop tracks, though is a bit bland in places, and may not be a proper CD in all territories), Momus, Otto Spooky, Francis Plagne, Idle Bones (which has a few good songs and a lot of meandering ambient field recordings; were the ratio reversed, it'd be quite impressive), and Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, #3.
It was also a good year for rereleases, with the entire Field Mice back-catalogue seeing the light of day again, in the form of new releases of Snowball, Skywriting and For Keeps, all extended with non-album tracks, and all three Slowdive albums (Just For A Day, Souvlaki and the exquisite Pygmalion) being rereleased—the first two with bonus discs full of EP and live tracks—through Sanctuary; meanwhile, neo-shoegazer Ulrich Schnauss's first album, Far Away Trains Passing By, is seeing the light of day again (good to see that Domino are using their NMECarlingnuwaveartrock windfall for good).
My gigs of 2005:
- Belle & Sebastian playing If You're Feeling Sinister at the Barbican. They brought their second album to life really well, and played a few other favourites before and after it.
- My Favorite, playing at Underbelly, 17 June. The last ever gig they did in the UK before breaking up. Their brand of immaculate, upbeat, New Order/OMD-influenced pop with lyrics of suburban alienation and existential angst really appealed to me.
- One of the three Architecture In Helsinki gigs I caught on their two UK tours; let's say, for the sake of argument, the one at the Dublin Castle in Camden. Their live performances seemed a lot tighter and more energetic than they were when I saw them back in Melbourne.
- Broadcast at Koko. They brought their new album to life quite well, and played some of their old tracks too.
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.
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?
The past week has been unusually rich in worthwhile gigs in London, and Your Humble Narrator spent much of it going to such, often with camera in hand:
- Monday night was Suzerain at the infamous Hope and Anchor in Islington. I've seen them before; they're not so much an indie band as tomorrow's chart-toppers who haven't been signed yet. They sound somewhere between David Bowie and Duran Duran, with elements of Icehouse, the Scissor Sisters and early Nine Inch Nails, look not too unlike Interpol or Franz Ferdinand and play a rather tight, catchy glam-pop. They'll probably go far.
- On Tuesday, I went to Club AC30 to see Sambassadeur, a Swedish indiepop band on the Labrador label (also home to the likes of Acid House Kings, Club 8 and The Radio Dept.). They were pretty good; somewhere between various Sarah Records bands, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and other recent Swedish bands including The Radio Dept; two guitars, bass, harmonium, boy/girl vocals and an iPod providing the drum tracks. There are some photos here.
On Thursday, I went to see Mirah, the K Records singer-songwriter and her band, at the Purple Turtle in Camden. They were quite good; the eponymous singer/guitarist was quite animated, and was accompanied by the usual bass and drums, as well as violin and accordion. Meanwhile, the bass player proved that Justin Timberlake and Von Dutch have not yet managed to kill off the trucker hat among US indie-rock hipsters; either that or we are witnessing a second wave of ironic appropriation of mainstream fashion's adoption of an earlier ironic hipster style. Anyway, there are photos here.
I ended up picking up a copy of Mirah's second album, Advisory Committee, at the gig. There seems to be an interesting lo-fi experimental-electronic thing happening on some of the tracks, amidst the (sometimes stereo-doubled) breathy vocals, indiekid guitar strumming, layers of fuzzy sound and the odd glockenspiel and such. It's a bit more adventurous sonically than You Think It's Like This... (if perhaps not quite as innocently playful), and has a sort of spiky quirkiness that seemed to be absent in C'mon Miracle, which (from memory) seemed more like a straight alt-country record.
On Friday night, I went to see a band named My Favorite play in Hoxton. They're an electropoppy outfit from New York; bouncy upbeat songs sounding like OMD or 1980s New Order at their poppiest, with pleasant-enough boy-girl vocals; upon closer listening, though, the songs turn out to be quite dark, about the ghosts of dead teenagers and such. I picked up their album, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives; the booklet looks more like something one would expect from a lugubrious Montréal post-rock collective than a New York electropop band, and betrays a morbid obsession with Joan of Arc. Photos here.
Incidentally, Hoxton Square on a Friday night is a rather interesting experience; upon entering the square, the noise of hundreds of people talking is the first thing one notices. The crowds outside the clubs and swanky bars are to be expected; the large numbers of people sitting on the grass in the centre of the square, as if waiting for a band to come on at an outdoor concert, seemed a bit more unusual. Were they there just to bask in the ambient coolness that is Hoxton? Is this what the cool set in London do when they become too old to get their teenage kicks by walking slowly up and down Camden High St. in orange "PSYCHO WARD" shirts, hardcore band patches and cutesy-goth-cartoon-character bags or something?