Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Sprinters

You know those "RIYL" blurbs that bands or labels put on their releases? If they were all as accurate as The Sprinters' effort, you'd know exactly when to open your wallet. The Sprinters claim they're like these bands: Ariel Pink, Real Estate, Pavement, Mac DeMarco, Yo La Tengo, Kurt Vile, The Feelies.

And they are. This eponymous debut album is 90s American indie (Pavement's brutal melodies, Yo La Tengo's narcotic noise). It's 1970s radio-friendly hits warped in the California sun (Ariel Pink), post-punk jangle (The Feelies), woozily dazed (see Mac DeMarco) and, hold up, let me swap Kurt Vile for Neil Young. You get the idea.

The Sprinters are from Wigan. They write pop songs like the 1960s have just ended and they're not sure where they're going. 20 years ago this record would have been released by Elephant 6. Rejoice that it's freshly made.

Friday, 16 June 2017

The Rain Parade - Emergency Third Rail Power Trip

The Rain Parade recorded Emergency Third Rail Power Trip in 1983 with the conviction that Eight Miles High, We Can Work It Out and Forever Changes were the 1960s’ most essential artefacts, and that punk’s true legacy was Marquee Moon. I expect they liked Pink Floyd as well, but I won’t hold that against them because this is a phenomenal record.

Bucketfull of Brains named it the best album of the 1980s. Alan McGee tried to licence it for Creation. To know this psychedelic masterpiece is to love it. Over 10 years ago I started working in a second-hand record shop in London. On my first day a woman asked for Emergency Third Rail Power Trip. We didn’t have it.

A colleague told me she came in every week to ask for it. The next week I promised I’d copy it for her. She was delighted. I brought the copy into the shop the next day. The woman never came back. The only explanation is that she’d found a copy in another shop. Her search for the holy grail of modern psychedelia was over.

Real Gone Music are reissuing it in August. You need this album. It includes the follow-up mini album, Explosions In A Glass Palace, which is very good but not quite in the same league. By this time founding member David Roback had left The Rain Parade. Opal and Mazzy Star came next, which you know all about. Or if you don’t, go into record shops every week until you find a copy of Opal’s Early Recordings.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Bonny Doon

I'm not certain how some Detroit garage musicians came to make a brilliant alt-country lp, but l'm delighted they did. Bonny Doon channel Smog's world weariness, Wilco's rich gloom and Dylan's wild mercury sound. It complements 2017's other near-perfect albums, Dag's Benefits of Solitude and Courtney Marie Andrews' Honest Life, with a psych side order of Woods and Real Estate.

What Time Is It In Portland? might not seem like one of the big questions, but it's about lost friends and an ex-lover. Bonny Doon give the subject - romantic chaos and melancholy longing - the gravitas it merits.

They show their garage roots on Lost My Way, though they've opened the door and let the light pour in. They realise what they're doing on the even grubbier Maine Vision isn't quite right so cut that song just shy of a minute.

All the other songs are played at leisure (or more often despair) and given room to breathe. This album is a low-key minor classic.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Mr. Jukes feat. Charles Bradley "Grant Green"

This is possibly the biggest surprise since Sean Dickson claimed there'd always been a dance element to the Soup Dragons. Jack Steadman from Bombay Bicycle Club has gone to soul sampling and vocals from Charles Bradley with the storming Grant Green.

There's an album, God First, which has some songs as good (or almost) as Grant Green, and a few that mine the jazz catalogue too much for my taste. I expect Grant Green will get a 7" release at some point. It's what happens with the big soul cuts from albums (yep, album first, then 7" for "DJ demand" or maybe "record company bottom line").

Still, Mr Jukes stands up next to the Avalanches, Mr President and Hifi Sean. Stream it, I bet you'll find something you love.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Lab Coast

Lab Coast are the Canadian wing of the Elephant 6 and Kindercore fan club. They make short psych-pop songs that stop when they're on top. They sound like they could be on a bill with Apples in Stereo, Elf Power and Masters of the Hemisphere.

If their name suggests experimentation - not just the lab, but the lab coats anagram - then that's about right. Samples, FX pedals, cello and, yes, banjo rub shoulders. Very possibly on the same song. Like Wurld Series in New Zealand, Lab Coast are picking up DIY music with an adventurous spirit and pure pop hearts.

This album is a sort of greatest hits, or misses, or songs only released on cassette. You see, Lab Coast have been going since 2008 and bewilderingly the world has yet to fall at their feet. They toured the UK last week and I only found out the day after their last gig. Still, this record, though.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Sneetches - Form Of Play: A Retrospective

The Left Banke, Raspberries, Buffalo Springfield, Fred Neil - you can tell a lot about The Sneetches from the acts they covered. They made pitch perfect pop with the psychedelia and powerpop on standby and enough originality to step out of the shadows.

The mid-90s saw a deterioration of classic rock influences with bands playing crude, banal pastiches. But from 1987 to 1995 The Sneetches played it with enough distance and homegrown tunes to come up with their own essentials.

Ironically, they were ahead of their time. Not that many people were interested in the very Beach Boys influenced Sometimes That's All We Have album, even with a Creation reissue in 1989. The heritage rock sound came later from bands who specialised in grandiose overinflation.

If you want something subtler, then The Sneetches are for you. They didn't sell a lot of records and weren't connected with any kind of movement, possibly because there's an honesty and genuine craft to their music. This compilation is a good starting point. It doesn't include 54 Hours, which for my money is their finest moment, but there are plenty of other hits that should have been.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Shit Girlfriend or shit Record Store Day

Shit Girlfriend released their fine debut single Mummy's Boy on Record Store Day. You might not have noticed. If you're what's become RSD's core demographic - classic rock fans of a certain age with plenty of disposable income - you definitely didn't notice because you were most likely queuing to buy one of these:

Shit Girlfriend didn't get any extra exposure because they released their splattered-vinyl single on RSD. But raising the single's profile didn't seem to be the purpose. The only benefit I can see is economic because it can retail at about 30-40% higher than normal.

It's easy to point out the hypocrisy in this move if Shit Girlfriend or their record label had been espousing any DIY ethic. If they were then I missed it. What they were doing is what most indie record labels do - release a limited version on coloured vinyl and a bigger run on standard black vinyl.

Indies do this to generate excitement at the tills - or more accurately their mail order department - simply so people buy the record before they get sick of it through endless streams.

Shit Girlfriend's single gets a bigger (or less restricted - honestly, and despite how much I enjoy the record, it's got a shelf life and one pressing was probably enough) release on May 19 on black vinyl. This is a new variation on the sales market the majors pulled in the late 1980s.

Back then labels were promoting CDs against the dominant cassette format (vinyl was already in decline) following the hardback/paperback model book publishers have always done. Pay more, get the better version.

However, the simple fact is that indie doesn't do very well on RSD. All non-heritage rock formats struggle (if you want to know how soul fails, I wrote about that a couple of years ago). This year saw the reissue of the first 4 Television Personalities albums. I don't know of many better albums. Even the 1991 reissues do very well on the second-hand market. But RSD isn't the time to reissue them.

I expect those Television Personalities albums will sell eventually (even if interest in them peaked around 5 to 10 years ago) but until they do they've got the stigma of being unsold RSD stock sitting in shops. The £29 asking price will have to come down to under £20 - the buyers aren't core RSD demographic so the price has got to reflect that.

Maybe next year the indies can take RSD off. Then whatever specials they were planning to do they can instead release just to independent record shops at prices the people who want them can afford. They'll be left with a lot less unsold stock and a lot more goodwill.