Sunday, 29 December 2013

MANE - Bloodstone

Post-punk with a side order of goth - think in recent times Blank Dogs or maybe even The Mantles - in a 5-song 7" (which is neatly marketed as a mini-album) from California.

I bet MANE are thinking more of Siouxsie's midnight howl and Kleenex's primitive punk. It works, too, with its depth-charge bass and sludgy menace. Pick of the bunch, and the song that had me opening my wallet to buy the record, is Older.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The 1990s revival

The prevalence of chopping guitars, strong riffs and an enjoyably high level of femme punk pop in 2013 is remarkably similar to the early 1990s musical map. There’s a pop theory that scenes repeat themselves after 20 years (as if time alone would explain the late 70s popularity of both Showaddywaddy and the Grease soundtrack), but to paraphrase EM Forster, ‘one revival may explain itself, but it throws no light upon another’.

The key to explaining the resurgence of bands turning up the volume, mixing gale-force attitude with dynamic hooks in 2013 is in the early 90s representing the last time popular alt-rock had its roots in the underground.

This vision of the early 90s is one where Hole’s Live Through This is fundamentally more important than Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s a standpoint where grunge’s legacy is known, accurately, as ushering metal into indie’s purview and opening the gate for nu-metal to be taken seriously.

Grunge’s legacy was driven by commerce and the historical popularity of metal (its sales really do make indie look like piss ants). What the sales ledgers miss, though, is the US hardcore’s influence on both grunge and the early 90s alt-rock scene. Nirvana’s bassist Krist Novoselic, described their sound as “nothing new; Hüsker Dü did it before us”.

So when indie bands are described as sounding “1990s” the meaning is not grunge, it’s not nu-metal and it’s definitely not Brtipop; it’s that early 90s sound of bands picking up the still-hot trail of Husker Du, it’s Dinosaur Jr and the Lemonheads getting slightly more commercial, it’s Become What You Are by The Juliana Hatfield Three, it’s The Breeders and Belly, and it’s Husker Du’s Bob Mould breaking out with Sugar’s Copper Blue.

These records sold huge amounts. The Breeders’ Last Splash sold a million copies, Belly’s Star hit 800,000, and the Lemonheads and Dinosaur Jr charted. Like grunge, these bands came out of the 80s US underground. Like grunge, though, there was a commercialised cut-off point.

The combination of frantic power pop and higher production values was taken up by Alanis Morissette on her third album, 1995’s Jagged Little Pill. Selling 33 million copies – the 11th biggest album of all time – killed the scene it hijacked its sounds from.

But as long as there are teenagers there’ll always be a new audience for confrontational guitar rock. So this year when The Courtneys (named after Courtney Love rather than Courtney Taylor, I suspect) half inch the bass line to Sonic Youth’s 1994 song Bull In The Heather on Dead Dog from their excellent self-titled debut, you’re hearing part of the new generation reaching back to the last time when the popular alternative had its links to punk’s grassroots.

When you see twin sisters Katie and Allison Crutchfield, a la Kelley and Kim Deal, breaking out with Waxahatchee and Swearin', there’s a neat parallel with the early 90s. Just as there is with the Crutchfield sisters’ far superior Bad Banana lurking in the underground. Because – and I say this from bittersweet experience, not snobbery – the best stuff tends to stay to under the radar.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Christmas gift from New Zealand

Two generations of New Zealand pop, the brand new Trick Mammoth and the ageless Puddle, have joined forces for if not exactly a xmas single, then a single out for xmas.

It's a Puddle song with the Mammoth's (as no one's calling them) Millie and Adrian adding backing vocals for extra atmos. Hedgehog Hill is sleight-of-hand psychedelia, matching pastoral wonder with lysergic fantasy in a melodic tailspin. If you're wondering what that repeated refrain is, it echoes The Go-Betweens' Cattle and Cane.

And if you've just come to the new sound of Dunedin, this is the right moment to discover some older sounds in The Puddle's catalogue. Start with last year's Secret Holiday/Victory Blues and lose yourself backwards.

Monday, 16 December 2013

This is not the top 22

It's 22 songs from 2013 that hark the heralding of an annual CD I foist on ever-wearying friends, some of whom I suspect then give it to enemies in the work Secret Santa.

A 'best of' 2013 would have to include at least one song by Scott & Charlene's Wedding, but they were on last year's compilation. Take this recent conversation:

Ungrateful Bastard: That's a funny name. Maybe I'll see them when they play at your club.
DNC: You should. They're great.
UB: What are they like?
DNC: They were on the compilation I gave you.
UB: Ah, I didn't get that far with it.
DNC: It was the first track.

No, I don't just make compilations and if anyone else likes them it's a bonus. It's one a year. Someone got round to playing 2010's effort this year. Really liked it, too.

Thing is, I'm generally friends with captains of industry who are too busy to listen to new music - even when it's handed to them in some cases - but a few will find something new to love. Or have their prejudices confirmed that the noise made by antipodean wastrels with poor job prospects and questionable hygiene ethics really isn't their thing.

Which is fine. I'm certain that I wouldn't like half of a compilation a friend might make me.

Concessions have been made. I really don't think Follakzoid's Chilean krautrock would tickle the fancy of any recipients, but Follakzoid II really is a tremendously intense and exciting record. And there's nothing from Hacia Dos Veranos' Limay, because everyone I know - and no one else - already has a copy. It'll be recognised as the classic it is in the future.

And, yes, I know the Little Big League single was last year, but it's short and sweet and there wasn't room for the longer songs from their (brilliant) album, These Are Good People.

Anyhow, these 22 songs are an introduction. May a few of them open new doors to old friends:

1. Money - Lady
2. All Over the World - The Prophet Hens
3. Complicate - Trust Fund
4. No More Guns - Mr Benn feat Tenor Fly
5. If I Died… - Sweet Baboo
6. Calendar Days - Dick Diver
7. Cabin Fever - The Steinbecks
8. Turpins Falls - The Stevens
9. You're Not The Target - Clearance
10. Memory Chester Lane - Dog Legs
11. Like Me - Wildhoney
12. Lost Without You - Martha
13. Nothin But Nice - Free Time
14. Fool's Melodies - Web of Sunsets
15. I Won't Wait - The Creases
16. Buried In The Ground - Tyrannosaurus Dead
17. Step Right Up (Pour Yourself Some Wine) - Alex Bleeker and the Freaks
18. St. Johns - Little Big League
19. Walk In My Shoes - Trambeat
20. Avant Gardener - Courtney Barnett
21. Black Sail - Chastity Belt
22. Gust - Georgiana Starlington

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The World EP

If you're asking what's the best record to be reissued this year, then it's Vehicle by The Clean. But if you're asking which reissue matched quality with the unknown - a real archival treat - then The World's eponymous EP recorded for Flying Nun in 1983 would right up there.

This concoction of folk-revival mystery, Josef K agitation and 4AD atmospherics wasn't a victim of the Flying Nun quality control department. How could it be? It's a wonderful record. Simply, The World broke up.

5 of this EP's 6 songs were released on a 7-song tape on Robert Scott's Every Secret Thing label in 1984. I wonder if The World's violin-led folk was on Robert's mind when he was writing The Magick Heads' material.

It's a shame that Unwucht didn't include the extra 2 songs from the tape; some liner notes wouldn't have hurt and I'm sure a more ambitious edition than 250 copies would have found warm homes. Still, in a year of great New Zealand reissues - you should have a listen to another Every Secret Thing act, Robert Scott's own Gordon Wallace, exceptionally good 1987 demos - The World stands out.

You'll need to play this video on the loud side:

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Best lyrics of 2013

I'd like to say that the Did Not Chart awards committee has given great thought to this enterprise, but really these are the first ones that sprang to mind. All great lines from great songs, though. And there is no committee. Or prize. But if any songwriters want to claim a prize you can have a free compilation CD I got at the independent label market last week.

Sweet Baboo - If I Died

And Daniel Johnston has written hundreds of great tunes
And I've got 6
So I guess there's some catching up to to
To tell you that I love you
To tell you that I'm sorry for what I am

Dog Legs - Memory Chester Lane

Boy number 4 kept fucking whores

Chastity Belt - James Dean

oh boy, when I fuck you
you make me feel like a prostitute
when you fuck me
yeah, I make you feel just like James Dean

Martha - Lost Without You

I threw my phone away,
So you couldn't call and I couldn't say,
The words I knew would eventually betray me

Trust Fund - We'll Both Apologise

I'm sorry that you had to listen to me play the guitar
For 3 hours and counting

Little Big League - Never Have I Ever Walked Away When the Time Was Right

And the beers they came and went, exposing the pornographic larks of our past
Filling the spaces we'd all chased to forget, I find peace in this

Scott & Charlene's Wedding - Lesbian Wife

One day I'll be coming home
Watching NBA with my lesbian wife

Colour Me Wednesday - Bitter Boys

Only have angry songs written about me,
bitter boys making noise between their bedroom walls.
Gonna collect them up and make a mix cd,
probably get more radio play than me

Edwyn Collins - 31 Years of Rock n Roll

I've found a reason to carry on
Just for the thrill
I'm better now
I've made it through my life once more
I feel alive it's good to feel

Lady - Money

The whole bloody thing. A fantastic version of my favourite song of the year. The ladies are having such a good time. Especially when they do what I must accept as the international dance movement for "stormy". I hope this version gets released.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Stevens: A History Of Hygiene

What an album! 24 songs over 2 sides, many punching in and out at around the minute mark, with the crunch of Wire and the shitgaze zip of Times New Viking. In its controlled chaos, roughouse riffs and goofy titles (Skeleton Vs Silicon or Blind In One Ear anyone?) A History of Hygiene draws on the highpoint of the last 20 years of DIY, Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand.

This record has it all - punk rock, pop and psychedelia - and in Challenger a song that really sounds like it should've been on Bee Thousand. Yeah, that good.

Then there's the weird vocal and lyrical detachment rubbing against the musical explosion. Take the start of Red Ribbon: "I saw a picture of a dead girl/I didn't mind". How's that for an opening line.

And then there's the bass line in Scared of Other Men, which sounds the same as Standard Fare's Crystal Palatial. Maybe it's a co-incidence, but The Stevens sound like they're keeping good company. Of course they are, they're from Melbourne which is showing no sign of letting up as a nursery for many of the world's most exciting bands.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Aztec Camera biography and personal stats

This is sweet. In 1985, Sire issued Backwards and Forwards, an Aztec Camera 10" (in a 10" x 12" sleeve), with a biography of the band and vital statistics of each member. It seems like the label was going for the mass teen market.

Of course, why wouldn't the label or the band have that ambition? But as experience shows, quality or even critical acclaim don't go hand in hand with commercial success. Despite Mark Knopfler producing Knife the year before, the gap between million-selling Dire Straits and Aztec Camera was obvious to radio stations.

A subtle interpretation of Van Halen's Jump maybe persuaded some Aztec Camera fans that, hey, Van Halen were pretty good, but I doubt if any fans of fist-pumpin soft rock anthems swapped stadium rock for sophisticated bedsit pop after hearing Aztec Camera's Jump.

Nonetheless, teen fans would want to know the birth date, eye and hair colour, and height of Roddy Frame, Campbell Owens, Eddie Kulak, Dave Ruffy and Malcolm Ross. As I'm sure everyone does even today. So here they are:

Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Postcard Records Catalogue

Or "catalogh", if you will. This comes from May 1993 with it own catalogue number, Dubh 9310. It's basically an A3 poster: on one side reviews, soundbites and slogans cut and pasted in punk-rock fanzine collage style; on the other, the catalogue itself with invective, vituperation and a declaration: "This is not an independent record label. This is a secret organisation."

Best of all is the history and mnifeso, The Virtuosos of unspecific anger

Postcard ran for just over a year on an explosive fuel of anger, ego, hysteria and everyday insanity. Chaos! Although it can't have been total chaos, 'cause we got a lot done. Decisions would be based on an emotional repose rather than business calculation or hadn't you guessed? We were very young and made it up as we went. You see, there were no ground rules then. We were inventing the rules.

It was a pretty perverse vision and it was important not to let anyone's reality impinge. It seemed to me integral to maintain an almost fascist approach. Edwyn still accuses me of setting up as the arbiter of taste! We were quite wonderfully arrogant, anti-RockBiz, anti-FalseModesty - the trappings of a Scottish Presbyterian upbringing. fuck the Church, Fuck the Government. Fuck Fuck Fuck teh Fuck - y'know the sort of thing you go through it. Actually. I think I got stuck at that bit. Oh dear!

So anyway, it was an instant success. Knickerbocker Glorys every day! But with the sugar came pressure - those awful feelings of responsibility. And the opportunists arrive. And the internal bickering just went on and on. Such is life the the Young and Mental. Self-destruct time!

I sort of came out of the fog later in the eighties., like a hangover that went on ofr a year or so. And then were was Live Aid,. Gay Disco became the chart music. There was lots of 'corporate rock'. Everything was easy-listening, then a grungey new punk type thing run by the multi-nationals and lots of recycling.

It was all sort of nothing. If it wasn't for CDs it would have been over by now.

(extract from radio interview with Alan Horne)

Well, that's that. No more oldes or unreleased stuff. Fin! Now I am free. Free to go forward, a birght new future in an off-world colony, a chance to begin again. I will dance! I will laugh, every day will be the first day of spring. I think I'll get myself one of those computers I've heard so much about.

Lord I am ready, lead me on.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

First Base album

Robert Forster reckons you can get a fairly good fix on a person by knowing how early they stopped buying Ramones records. Something similar could be said for bands. If they've got just the first 5 Ramones studio albums, then they can play bubblegum pop punk with a maximum of pizazz, a minimum of fuss and - crucially - know when to quit.

First Base blast through 12 songs in half an hour like their Ramones collection runs from the debut to End of the Century. This album is good-time guitar pop with the simplicity of doo wop that really couldn't be any simpler and clearer in its intentions - the songs are pretty much all about girls and summer (ok, the lyrics to I Don't Wanna Be Your Dog might suggest something darker).

I imagine that next to the Ramones their favourite records are Denis by Blondie and the Grease soundtrack. If you ever get bored of this record, some other band will have a go using the same formula. Chances are they won't have quite the flair and vitality as First Base, so enjoy this one while it's fresh out the box.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Creases: I Won't Wait

I Won't Wait wants to fly as high as The Byrds and jangle like The Beatles' If I Needed Someone. It kind of does, you know, but no more than, say, Relax by fellow Australians Chook Race.

Fun To Lose on the b-side is a noisy garage buzz, sort of like Teenage Fanclub when they took the nagging, insistent riffs of grunge's forefathers to classic pop.

The Creases' Rough Trade deal will get them more coverage than any of the other equally deserving brilliant Australian bands. I hope that Bitch Prefect and Scott & Charlene's Wedding, who likewise trade in superior Feelies-style punky jangle and ramshackle noise, get a bit more notice if The Creases blow up.

Make no mistake, this is great and a reminder that in the past couple of years the Australian underground has had no equal.


We've been treated to some ace new powerpop from Canada (The White Wires), New Zealand (The Eversons) and the USA (The Happy Thoughts) recently. Now add Martha from Durham, England to that list. They've got hooks, big bass lines and classic power chords.

There's the quiet bit/loud bit on Sycamore (so maybe they've got some Mogwai records) but just in case you didn't get that the pop's in equal measure to the power, on Lost Without You they lift that line from Orange Juice about just like The Four Tops I can't help myself, after referencing The Isley Brothers' This Old Heart Of Mine.

Maybe Martha are having their own take on Orange Juice's declaration to combine classic soul with snappy Buzzcocks punk. Whatever they're doing is irresistible: both sides of this 7" are knockout pop hits.

The OddBox 7" sold out straight away - sometimes, the record-buying public gets it right - and has just been reissued on Discount Horse.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Robert Scott: The Professor and the Team

Rumour maintains that Robert Scott has hundreds of unreleased home-recorded albums. If you took the lucky-dip approach to these home recordings, you might hope for something between the 1987 release of The Bats' Daddy's Highway (agony and ecstasy in 12 pop songs) and the 1989 recording of The Clean's Vehicle (the key and gate to the international pop underground from 1990 onwards).

The Professor and the Team is from 1988, the same year that The Bats' 1990 album The Law of Things was recorded. You can hear echoes of that album's Cliff Edge and Nine Days in these archival recordings, but really they don't have that much in common with late 80s Bats or Clean.

More accurately, these songs look forward to the spare folk styling of The Magick Heads' Before We Go Under and cast an eye backwards to the simpler approach of The Bats' And Here Is 'Music for the Fireside'.

This tape is very obviously the work of Robert Scott during his most fertile period. It's a Bats album without Paul Kean's thumping, melodic bass; it's denuded pop songs in newly intimate settings; and it's something that any fan could file happily with their other Bats albums or next to classic backwoods Americana like Bonnie Prince Billy's I See A Darkness.

You can buy this tape direct from Selection Records (excellent customer service). Distros really should email Steve there.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Run Run Run​/​MalesMalesMales

This collection captures, over 9 songs, Males’ first 12 months. It’s released as 2 EPs on one LP, the new recordings on one side and last year’s songs on the other.

Males are putting distance between their older songs - punchy, literate college rock, drawing from a 1980s tradition - and their newer songs, which have a certain complexity and artistic rawness in common with the 1990s American underground (I’m thinking late Throwing Muses especially).

Despite the gulf Males see between themselves in 2012 and 2013, the spirit of their early recordings continues untamed in their newer songs. Truly, though, there’s no great disconnect between these EPs.

Weakness - from where the “run run run” lyric gives the new EP its title - has the type of anthemic riff and rising melody that energises their 2012 songs. You could pair it with Over and Out from the MalesMalesMales EP and think they were written in the same session.

I’m certain that in 6 months’ time Males will in turn distance themselves from Run Run Run. I’ve also a strong feeling that this record is a calling card for a bigger label, maybe a one-way ticket to America. The production by Chills keyboardist Oli Wilson is polished enough to open doors at the bigger labels and radio stations.

If Males can shake off their self-criticism and self-analysis - both sides of this record are equal partners and it sounds like a cohesive album - and go with their instincts then we’ll see their name in lights. If not, they’ll blow a big-label advance on 3 years of studio time in a vicious circle of perfection and paranoia.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Wolfhounds: Divide and Fall

Wait for it - this one grows. Where their comeback single Cheer Up visited rough-and-tumble mangled jangle, Divide and Fall uses wrecking ball guitars and a sledgehammer bass to create an agitated noise. Did someone say Sonic Youth?

This is closer to the awkward Ron Johnson sound of the C86 compilation, on which The Wolfhounds found themselves, than the pop side of that record. The guitar solo mid-way through, though, gives Divide and Fall the pop kick.

Something for everyone, you'd think. But some of us thought that about The Wolfhounds 25 years ago. We were wrong then, but The Wolfhounds were right, as they are now. Commercial success may be ever elusive, but that's really not the fucking point.

Monday, 28 October 2013


Everything about Too Good To Me sounds just right: it's a soul-shakin four-to-the-floor anthem, all driving beat, searching vocals and rousing horns. When the northern template is recreated well - and this has been done very well - it's hard to fault.

Trambeat come into their own with Walk In My Shoes. It's the British mod-soul revival by way of The Style Council with gospel vocals. Northern purists will be surprised by the rap and the guitar solo, but this song proves Trambeat know their 60s R&B.

They've got character and range. Whether they do more straight-up motorcity sounds or reach into Immediate's back catalogue for inspiration, I'll be listening. Both sides of Trambeat's debut suggest more very interesting - and exciting - things to come.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Chills interviewed in 1987

Why do you think New Zealand suddenly has all these bands?

"The isolation really helps. We didn't want to get caught up in the struggle to succeed. We just played and that's a good attitude to start with."

This interview is from Simply Thrilled Honey fanzine.

The Chills have a triple(!) vinyl live album, Somewhere Beautiful, about to hit the shops. It sounds amazing.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Band In Heaven: Caught in a Summer Swell

Well, this is unexpected. The Band In Heaven have turned from the dark arts of velveteen drone (sample song title: Sleazy Dreams) to making one of the year’s finest psych-pop records in Caught in a Summer Swell.

This album finds them rubbing shoulders in 2013 with Dream Boys paisley underground and Veronica Falls crepuscular jangle. The sonic intensity of the songs comes from the tension between darkness and light, feedback and melody, male and female vocals, the stupid giddiness of getting high and then coming down.

Like their previous records, they still remind me of The Blue Orchids. And that’s always a good thing.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


The 2013 winner of best My Bloody Valentine recreation goes to Wildhoney. Like Me features bent notes, squalling guitars, gales of feedback, clattering drums, bone-crunching riffs, disembodied vocals and a tune blasting straight up into space.

My Disguise and Super Stupid on this 7" ep are just as strong. If Wildhoney can write an album this good, then they'll get at least the deserved attention that Jonanna Gruesome, the 2012 winner of best My Bloody Valentine recreation, are getting this year.

My Bloody Valentine, since you asked, are doing quite well in 2013's recreation of themselves, but let's face it, mbv is no Isn't Anything. And using Isn't Anything as year zero is what this game's all about.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Trust Fund: Don't Let Them Begin

These bedroom ballads are all stark melodies and a bare voice; everything else is stripped back to the bone. The rawness is tempered by humour, kind of like Jonathan Richman (you know, and I bet Ellis, who is Trust Fund, knows the words to Hospital).

The very impressive Don't Let Them Begin tape is largely a mixture of Melody Dog's kindergarten pop and subdued psychedelia by way of Elephant 6. Then there are songs like Complicate, a dramatic theatrical explosion that would re-ignite The Flaming Lips' career. If they only had the guile to still write songs like that.

trust fund - "complicate" from trust_fund on Vimeo.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Dream Boys

They start with the note-perfect 60s pop of Sometimes, glorious like The La’s There She Goes, and strike a rich seam of melodic gold that refuses to let up, like Felt’s Forever Breathes The Lonely Word.

Listen to Born Yesterday and ask yourself if they’re trying to be Jim Beattie in Primal Scream or Peter Buck on Reckoning or Roger McGuinn on Younger Than Yesterday. The answer is they’ve absorbed all that and more – I’m certain they’ve got a copy of The Crystal Set’s magisterial A Drop In The Ocean and have more than a few Bats albums – and come up with something as fresh as new paint.

Sure, there’s nothing essentially new about Dream Boys’ Rickenbacker and close harmonies - the blueprint was set out by The Beatles; just 2 years ago The Twerps’ debut and Real Estate’s Days albums were reaching for similar highs – but this eponymous album is no revivalism: they reach higher and grab more stars than anyone else.

They’re from Los Angeles, but they could be from Glasgow. Or Dunedin. Or 1967. Or 1986. They’re from 2013 and sound like both the future and the past. Their album’s out now on Art Fag.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Suki Ewers

Each year there are bands in Mazzy Star's psychedelic slipstream - in 2013, cherish Georgiana Starlington and Web Of Sunsets - whose gently spun melodies and funereal undertones suggest a similar obsession with life in the shadows.

In the 17 years since Mazzy Star's last album, there's been none closer than Suki Ewers. Obviously, perhaps, as Suki is Mazzy Star's keyboardist and before then was in Opal. In fact, the elegiac One More Time and the quietly dramatic What Can You See sound like they could be lost Opal recordings.

But Kind Of Hazy (it does what it says on the tin), Suki's 2008 album, works on its own terms. It finds richness in its suspended animation, sharing an aesthetic with Galaxie 500's On Fire - whose producer, Kramer, also mastered Kind Of Hazy.

I expect like me, you'll be buying Mazzy Star's Seasons Of Your Day on Monday. Some point after that, in the cold years waiting for its follow-up, make sure to buy Kind Of Hazy. It's a masterclass in elegiac pop.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Shintaro Sakamoto: Don't Know What's Normal

This meeting point of tropicalia, afro-funk and soft pop comes to you from Japan. After last year's ace How To Live With A Phantom album, the easy lounge groove of the Don't Know What's Normal 7" is more than a match for any of the album's highs.

Don't Know What's Normal manages, like the slacker hip hop of Beck's Where It's At and the Super Furry Animals' seamless genre-bending, to make a really tight piece of music sound effortless.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Heathers: Teenage Clothes

Imagine if Joy Division’s Transmission was hijacked from its gloom, pimped with a rough, jangling riff that knew The Byrds inside out and was driven by a teenage beat that crashed the cymbals into the sound booth.

That’s the slapdash pop-art pop of Teenage Clothes: punk’s energy meeting the broken-hearted crusade of 60s pop. It’s loud and it’s bright and it’s irresistible.

Heathers are probably named after the film, but their skittishness and zest reminds me a little of early Orange Juice (The Heather's On Fire). Even though they’re 3 blokes from LA, I want them – kinda like da Brudders Ramone – to all be called Heather. Anyhow, the b-side I Don’t Wanna Be Adored – more The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog than The Stone Roses – shows they’ve got a sense of humour.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

On tape: The Telescopes 'Hang' demo

What did you do in the great cassette store day war, daddy? I digitised Hang, a demo recorded by The Telescopes in December 1987.

Let's not be too silly about this cassette store day (the only cassette shop I've ever been to was in Baghdad in the 1980s, where you chose from a massive Argos-sized brochure what tape you'd like copied) as tape shops don't exist.

Tapes are enjoying a bit of a revival in the indie scene as they're the cheapest physical format to produce and distribute. Add disaffection with free MP3s, horrifying postage costs for vinyl and a bit of nostalgia for the early DIY ethic, and you've got a thriving underground scene.

What you haven't got is something that can be co-opted by shops and bigger labels to generate excitement and cash windfalls with limited editions. Even so, I hope that some of the bands and tape labels find new fans and get money to make their next tapes. Or even a 7" single.

That Telescopes demo? One of the band members sent me a collection of their demos and some live tracks in April 1988. More time has elapsed between now and then as has between then and the release of the first Beatles LP.

We're not going back to demo tapes, but as long as the most exciting bands get their new music out on tape (last year, for example, there was Joanna Gruesome, The Spook School and Playlounge, all of whom have since had records out) then the scene thrives.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Little Big League: These Are Good People

This collection combines post-punk’s brittle immediacy with The Sundays’ romantic gloom. Maybe if The Sundays’ Blind had bothered with, you know, a few tunes and, say, Built To Spill had got even more dischord going on, then with that combination you’d have These Are Good People.

Singer Michelle Zauner has similar vocal gymnastics to Inna Mkrtycheva of the (too short-lived) Sweet Bulbs, a band with whom Little Big League share an enthralling sonic intemperance.

Like Fear Of Men, their closest contemporaries, they have a folkloric fascination and mystery, and a smart way of containing howling sexual anguish in the restraints of instantly accessible pop songs. Check Summer Wounds, for instance:

For the love of God, someone get this girl to shut up
Or else I’m leaving, I swear I’m leaving
Oh don’t you want me to stay
Like a summer dress on a wire hanger

I can not get off when you're always trying to talk
I lose the feeling, I'm lost

Or Sportswriting, which opens with "Tell me do you like to give or receive/Or do you like it better on hands and knees". Just listen to the tension building and its release in 6 glorious minutes:

Fuck it, play the whole album and then buy it.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Record Store Day and Independent Label Market: competing economies

Record Store Day (RSD) exists to sustain independent record shops; Independent Label Market (ILM) exists to help indie labels claw back some money lost by selling records to shops through distributors.

The 2 parties making money throughout the year are major labels and distributors. RSD is becoming more popular each year principally because of major labels’ involvement. In 2013 the RSD hype in the mainstream media wasn’t because of the Cannibal Corpse picture disc but because David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Kate Bush and Pink Floyd, among other established major label perennials, had limited releases.

This one day of feverish excitement about overpriced records - inflated by labels and shops - helps many record shops balance their books for the rest of the year. The bigger labels do pretty well out of it, too. For the smaller labels, though, the ones shut out from the RSD whirligig, it’s just another bad day at the office.

Independent Label Market
Every big city should have one of these. I’ve enjoyed the days at London’s Spitalfields Market, getting good deals on new records and back catalogue. For some of the smaller labels involved, it’s a financial lifeline as they can sell records at a small profit, which pays for the loss they incur when they sell through a distributor.

The unrealistic deals given to many small labels in the UK means that they lose money on every record they sell through a distributor. Self-distribution is rarely worth it for small labels thanks to the sheer time involved in successfully invoicing shops. Want to know about a label that’s never been paid for its records by the shop that’s sold them? Speak to a small label. Most of them have some horror stories.

Mail order
Declining sales have put record shops in reduced circumstances. Small labels have almost always lost money or broken even. Most of the records I’ve bought in the past 25+ years from these cottage (or bedroom in a cottage) industries have been by mail order, either direct from the label or from an underground mail order distributor.

I’ve spoken to bands on such labels and they’ve always been delighted when they see their records in shops. But the likelihood of seeing them in shops is dwindling. The small labels will survive selling their records at gigs and online. Many of them are now using singles clubs, which bypass record shops completely.

Some of these labels - OddBox, for example, whose are pressing 100 copies of each single - rarely get their records in shops as it is. For my money, their Tyrannosaurus Dead 12” ep is one of 2013’s most exciting debuts. You won’t find it in record shops, though.

It wouldn’t take a daring buyer to stock this ep - the frenzied fuzz puts it next to contemporaries Spook School or Joanna Gruesome, its heritage would see it happily next to Dinosaur Jr in the racks - but if independent shops decide they don’t need these sorts of records, then many labels are drawing the conclusion that they don’t need the shops.

Tyrannosaurus Dead’s second release was a 7” lathe cut. Just 50 copies. All money to the label and band. Makes economic sense.

This DIY ethic chimes with what Damon Krukowski said last month:
Musicians don’t need to reach everyone; we just need to reach our audience. And we don’t need to make everyone pay a little, but we do need those for whom our work means something significant to pay enough to enable us to provide it. I believe that relationship is relatively undisturbed by the Internet — that’s why limited editions, from lavish box sets to underground cassettes, seem to be humming along fine right now. Those are products made for a specific audience, which appreciates their agreed-upon value.

All of Britain's independent label shops that I've visited do great work under a lot of financial pressure. But some of them could work more closely with independent labels to ensure their survival and the indie scene's health rather than relying on the major-label blitz of RSD to balance their books.

I'd welcome suggestions from indie labels on what they could do to sell more records through shops. I bet they'll have some great ideas.

Rough Trade East
My local record shop is Rough Trade East (RTE) - I live about a mile away. Some of you might think I’m lucky. In a way, I am. However, I seldom buy anything there because they’re so expensive - 7”s are at least £1 more than other shops; albums are between £2 and £5 higher. So if I want more than one new record from a shop - and most weeks, I do - then it’s cheaper to buy mail order from another record shop.

But I’m glad it’s there. I was in RTE on Saturday and there were records I didn’t know about and, in one case, thought had sold out of its crazily small run. That’s the joy of record shopping. If I’d had a few more quid, I’d have bought a reissued album, too. Yes, all the ones I want are available cheaper mail order from another shop (even factoring in the postage cost) but I could’ve bought them at any point in the past 5 years. Picking up a record is always more enticing than looking at a thumbnail.

Most of the punters were tourists, many young enough to be with their parents. Yes, both generations could be buying records, but on that day I saw only the kids with record bags.

RTE is a destination venue for visitors, some of whom no doubt buy something just because they’re there. Perhaps they wouldn’t if they lived locally; however, the number of indie record shops in London is so low that there isn’t much choice and they'll eventually find themselves in RTE.

I wonder if it’s this small success or the idea of empire building that’s leading to Rough Trade to open a branch in New York. I wish them well. But I warn them: there’s room in central London for another decently sized independent record shop. And if, say, New York’s Other Music decide to open a branch on Rough Trade’s Shoreditch turf, and their prices don’t have Rough Trade’s silly mark-up, then RTE might find itself struggling to survive on its own patch.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Web of Sunsets

Fool's Melodies is back-porch psychedelia like Woods' Bend Beyond, singer Sara Bischoff has a disaffected croon similar to Hope Sandoval ("and I hope that we all have a lullaby to take the weight away") and the numbing country rock had me reaching for Marianne Faithfull's Sister Morphine.

Neon Blood on the b-side is no less assured and states the case very clearly that Web of Sunsets' debut album (currently being mastered) will rank alongside Georgiana Starlington's Paper Moon and Mazzy Star's return as 2013's most rewarding bittersweet pills.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Marta Ren & The Groovelvets: Summer's gone (didn't swim)

Soul revival from Portugal, Marta Ren sounds – and looks – every inch the peachy crossover pop soul princess on Summer’s Gone.

2 Kinds Of Men – maybe a nod to The Softiques’ Two Kinds Of Boys – goes harder and grittier into street-corner funk by way of Vicki Anderson.

An album’s on its way in the autumn. Watch out.

Bands that aren't The Cave Weddings

Purple Slumber and Longing Dream sound like a lost Cave Weddings single – garage rock rumble, riffs that won’t let go and enough sunlight getting through the post-punk gloom to see the way ahead. It’s on glow-in-the-dark vinyl, too.

Yeah, it does seem melodramatic to lust after a ‘lost’ single by a band who released two singles and a CD ep in 2009/10, but, Jesus, they were good records. Vacations have nothing to do with The Cave Weddings: it’s Jack Bruce, late of the Fungi Girls, a band I never got into, probably because the tipping point of bands with ‘girls’ in the name had been reached by then.

Did you see that interview Lawrence did with Girls 4 years ago? A ‘source very close to Lawrence’ told me that Lawrence thought he was going to interview a girl band and was very keen on the idea. He was a bit disappointed when it turned out to be 2 blokes.

Winter Bear really does feature a Cave Weddings alumnus, namely Erin Dorbin. This time round Erin has gone for girl group punk ramalama with the high spots of The Shangri-Las and the sweet spots of The Flips.

Each side is done and dusted in around 2 minutes. I’m left wanting more.

Colour Me Wednesday: I Thought It Was Morning

This record is full of whip-smart lines and punchy riffs like Kenickie, smash’n’grab power pop like Cheap Trick and pummelling college rock hooks like Blake Babies. Due to their age (“it’s like I failed my teens/now I’m failing my 20s” they opine on Shut) and sass (femme anthem You’re Not My No 1 Bastard) then it’s Kenickie they’re closest to.

I Thought It Was Morning sounds like a 1990s album, but the ska punk is way more Elvis Costello than…well, put it this way, they’d eat Gwen Stefani for breakfast. If, like me, you saw Colour Me Wednesday 18 months ago, bought the demos CD and then came straight to this album, you’d expect ska or at least the bass to be more prominent.

The bassist held them together then. I’m sure he was wearing an Elvis Costello t-shirt at one gig. He’s not in the band now; the sound is different not just because of that, though. Colour Me Wednesday are now better drilled and spikier and hit the target every time.

Like The Tuts, with whom they share a member, I Thought It Was Morning suggests very strongly that their snappy, waspish punk-pop could soon be taken to a much bigger audience. I really hope it does.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Charles Latham's Hard On

Withered Hand’s Hard On from his Good News album is a cover of a 2004 song by Charles Latham.

Hard On was recorded in one take by transient American troubadour Latham at a friend’s house while he was living in Brighton. The false start in the song? The phone you can hear at the beginning interrupted.

Covered by a number of artists, Withered Hand’s version has become the best known. Part of that version was featured on an MTV show called "I Just Want My Pants Back" in 2012. During a kissing scene.

Charles modestly says Withered Hand’s take is the definitive version, but that overlooks the original’s raw emotion and beautiful backing vocals from Ellie Brooks.

Dan Willson of Withered Hand says: "Charles Latham is one of my absolute favourite songwriters and 'Hard-On' was one of the first songs of his that I heard. Somebody in Brighton put it on a mixtape for me and when I heard it I just stopped in my tracks. So simple. So beautiful. So truthful. He doesn't pull any punches. That's just how he writes.”

Another singer-songwriter in Scotland just wrote to Charles saying that he'd covered it at a gig and no one had heard of either Withered Hand or Charles Latham, so he claimed it as his own.

Now everyone can know Hard On is by Charles Latham. And now, as Charles Latham and Withered Hand release a split 7” picture disc on Hangover Lounge Records, even more people will know about Charles Latham.

You can download Hard On for free. Or pay what you want for it (all money goes to Charles).

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Clean: Vehicle

1990s American indie rock started in England in 1989 when New Zealand band The Clean recorded Vehicle. Its impact was minimal on release in early 1990, but it's had a greater affect on the indie underground in the subsequent 23 years than any other record.

Vehicle crystallised the DIY garage pop aesthetic, it made jangling folk-rock at breakneck speed that found ways to play without worshipping, knock-kneed, at The Byrds' back catalogue and it channelled krautrock and psychedelia into a unified whole. And they did it so quickly!

"It was all recorded live the way we'd done the other records. We set up, blasted through the songs, did a day's worth of guitar overdubs then a day of vocals, a day of mixing and it was all done."
Robert Scott

The Clean didn't repeat that trick. They didn't need to. Their 4 subsequent albums have taken parts of that whole and made something different each time. As have many, many others. If you're looking for evidence of Vehicle in underground indie records you love from the past 20 years, then pick any 10 and the chances are that The Clean's sounds echo through many of them just as they do in new records released in 2013.

The constituent parts of Vehicle might suggest that The Clean didn't establish anything original; what they did do, though, was create an ideal representation of those aesthetics' possibilities.

Brian Eno said of The Velvet Underground & Nico that "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band". Vehicle sold fewer copies than that, but it would be fair to say that thousands of people who've heard it have taken parts of it into the recording studio with them.

We have 23 years and counting of records that might not exist without Vehicle. Those records are more adventurous and stronger for it:
I think we definitely thought we were saying something back in the day and it was pretty confrontational with our sound. We didn’t hold back. It was, ‘Here we are, take it or leave it—it’s not going to be nice. It’s gonna be confrontational'.
David Kilgour

Don't look for Vehicle Part 2, because it doesn't exist in The Clean's or anyone else's catalogues. Pavement did pretty well with Slanted And Enchanted, but that was a young band making a great debut in Vehicle's shadow. The sales ledgers might give Pavement or MGMT or Real Estate get the picture...the victory on paper, but Vehicle is still, today, the most astonishing album. No one's come close to bettering it - thousands have been inspired by it and the music scene is richer for the suggestions and jumping-off points it's given.

If you've had the chance but haven't yet heard Vehicle I worry for you; if you have yet to hear Vehicle then I envy its manifold joys springing on you for the first time. The reissue is out now on Flying Nun/Captured Tracks.


Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Prophet Hens: Popular People Do Popular People

New Zealand has a new wave of new bands and their anthem is All Over The World by The Prophet Hens. It perfectly encapsulates the big bold ambition of Dunedin music with the quiet drama of isolation on a South Pacific island: part Chills organ-drenched pop, part bedroom angst (“I’ll try not to worry about people and the things they say”), its intent is to make a song that reaches out globally. And it does.

On their first album, The Prophet Hens do love bent out of shape (like the Teardrop Explodes) where psychedelic grandeur meets desolation. Like The Cure, they’ve got lush tunes and a lugubrious outlook, where misery meets melody (Green Blades Of Grass). Singer Penelope Esplin’s cool detachment, like Broadcast’s Trish Keenan or Kendra Smith in Opal, is coldly beautiful (High Times, for instance, is about a break up, not drugs).

Most obviously, The Prophet Hens share musical and geographical ground with The Chills. I know that The Chills released a new song a few weeks ago – I was as thrilled as you were, believe me – but I’m more excited about The Prophet Hens starting than The Chills returning. Popular People Do Popular People is a great start by a new band: it suggests possibilities and better things to come, and that’s always more exciting than an older band doing something almost as good as they once did.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Scott & Charlene's Wedding: Any Port In A Storm

Any Port In A Storm is an album about leaving home and moving to New York. Like The Modern Lovers, it balances wide-eyed awe, suburban awkwardness and the outsider’s low-level alienation.

This record is full of compelling verse hook melodies that The Strokes could sometimes do - remember 12:51 (“talk to me now I’m older”) - slacker rock from The Lemonheads’ punk-pop period, and The Feelies’ jangle and drone. The edgy, impulsive noise is complemented by singer Craig Dermody’s smart way, like Pavement, of combining folksy storytelling with a sharp eye for detail.

Any Port In A Storm is fresher and more luminous than debut Para Vista Social Club, but these songs are no more polished than they need to be. What the two Scott & Charlene’s Wedding albums have in common is a distinct sense of place. Melbourne’s suburbs might have been swapped for NYC, but this is as much about missing Australia as it is about being lost in the USA.

For all the American influences I’ve suggested (and, yes, I know that the The Lemonheads got really good thanks to Australians Nic Dalton and Tom Morgan), Any Port In A Storm is, next to Dick Diver’s Calendar Days, the crowning achievement of the recent Australian underground’s, uh, maturity. It’s an album that’s nearer to mid-80s Paul Kelly - I’d put money on Adelaide and Look So Fine, Feel So Low being close to Dermody’s heart - than anything else.

This record sounds like it'll be a major event; whether it will be is a different question. There are at least 3 songs - Fakin’ NYC, Lesbian Wife, Jackie Boy - that you could play to a full room and every person there would get immediately. There aren't many underground albums, ones that sound so vital and yet so accessible, you could say that about.

Any Port In A Storm is out July 22

Saturday, 22 June 2013

About Dan Treacy

There's a big gig in London today marking the release of Scared To Get Happy - A Story Of Indie-Pop 1980-1989, a view of Britain's 1980s indiepop scene.

The obvious - if understandable, for health reasons - omission from the gig is the Television Personalities. This is the band who by sheer force of power rather than design influenced the indiepop scene more than anyone or anything else in the 80s. Their influence continues to resonate across the world. I hear it in new records I buy every week.

A couple of years ago, an upmarket art magazine asked me to contribute something to their Syd Barrett-themed issue. The parallels between Barrett and Treacy, I thought, would make an interesting article. That article is below; and if you're not going to the gig today you could do worse than play some TVPs. Without them, some of the bands playing that gig wouldn't exist and many other bands would sound all the poorer.

If you’re asking who England’s greatest songwriter is, then the field’s wide open; if you’re asking who’s the greatest English songwriter, someone who captures the peculiarities and eccentricities of English suburbia and under-achievement, then it’s a much narrower field. Ray Davies would probably win, but he’d be chased by, among others, Elvis Costello, Jarvis Cocker, Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barrett. There’d be a core of support, too, for Dan Treacy of the Television Personalities, whose work has close parallels to Barrett’s.

To Pink Floyd fans, the Television Personalities (TVPs) will be known for their 1981 single I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives, and subsequent booking by David Gilmour to support him on his About Face tour. Dan Treacy used the London gig as an opportunity to read out Barrett’s home address, causing the TVPs to be booted off the tour.

Fans of post-Barrett Pink Floyd, those who might prefer their music to be guided by the values of pomp and virtuosity, wouldn’t like anything by the TVPs. Fans of Barrett’s solo albums, which soundtrack the harrowing sound of mental descent next to childlike naivety, will notice a kinship with Treacy’s instinct for portraying loneliness and psychedelic silliness cheek-by-jowl.

The Painted Word, recorded after Treacy suffered two nervous breakdowns, is one of the great lost albums. Fear and paranoia (You’ll Have To Scream Louder) meet drug dependency (A Life Of Her Own) and an urge to escape to childhood (Happy All The Time). With its bleak outlook, shambolic tendencies and sad nostalgia, you could file The Painted Word (un)happily next to The Madcap Laughs and Barrett.

Much of the TVPs’ reputation rests on their frenzied mod-punk and unashamedly amateurish attitude to the recording studio. Alan McGee wrote in the Guardian that Treacy “provided the inspiration and motivation for me to start [Creation Records]... He captured British pop culture in a particularly unique and musical fashion, and where he went I followed”.

1980s indie would have sounded very different without Treacy. The international indie underground would sound very different today, too, had it not been for Treacy. His bare honesty, direct DIY approach and emotional fragility have made him one of the biggest influences on that scene in the past decade, revered by the latest generation of hip guitar bands as at least a touchtone and in many cases as their founding father.

McGee’s wish for Treacy to be made “legendary in his own time” will most likely remain unfulfilled. Had Pink Floyd disbanded after Barrett’s departure then their legacy would be, like Barrett’s solo adventure, not much more than a captivating entry in rock’s back pages. Pink Floyd’s later global success as a prog rock outfit could only come from a band with a totally different outlook to Barrett’s idiosyncratic mindset. It’s the serious, adult rock of the later Pink Floyd that’s offered rich commercial pickings for contemporary groups such as Radiohead and Coldplay; Treacy’s influence, pace Barrett, may be scored deeply on the hearts of thousands of bands outside of the mainstream, but you’d never hear their music in an elevator.

Like Barrett, Treacy has aggravated his mental health issues with drug use. The past twenty years have been creatively patchy for Treacy and included periods when he’s disappeared (and, in one case, imprisoned). Some fans have courted the idea that Treacy deliberately took himself down the path of drug addiction and vanishing from public to draw comparisons to Barrett.

Phil Wilson, a friend of Treacy’s and a contemporary on the 80s indie scene as lead singer of The June Brides, said: “There was always a bit of Syd about Dan. I thought at the time that Dan would not mind at all being his generation's Syd Barrett. Maybe he didn't have enough self-belief to think that he could be the next Ray Davies, but that being a cult figure would be pretty cool, instead.”

Some similarities between Barrett and Treacy may be coincidental; certainly, many connections could be attributed to Barrett’s influence on Treacy. Ultimately, though, both are musical outsiders, mentally troubled artists with drug problems, largely indifferent to public opinion and prevailing tastes.

Wilson suggests a link between these outsiders: “Maybe it's the very English eccentricity that many adore in both Syd and Dan. Nobody wrote lines like Treacy’s ‘We went to a Wimpy Bar, but it wasn't all that nice’ or ‘And we both felt slightly embarrassed in Soho’. You look at them and they look banal, but in the context of the songs they are spot on. Almost like a character in an Alan Bennett play. It's that attention to detail that lifted Dan above what others were doing at the time.”

That time for Treacy, like Barrett, has passed. Shine on you crazy diamonds.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Tyrannosaurus Dead

This kind of high velocity fuzz and seesaw melody doesn't need a second invitation. Buried In The Ground - the first track off Tyrannosaurus Dead's first record, out right now on OddBox - barges in like a faster, more brutal take on Dignan Porch's Picking Up Dust.

This is an EP that knows the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart were at their best and most exciting before they got a producer (This Love Is Fucking Right!) and the only records Ride made that really matter were their first two EPs.

Tyrannosaurus Dead add to the new British bands' buzz - they've got Playlounge's thrash aesthetic and Joanna Gruesome's frenzied pop - with their own controlled chaos. They even got me pulling out those old This Poison! records, so thanks for that as well.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

East Village: Drop Out reissued

East Village stood out in Britain's late 80s post-indiepop wasteland (back then, there were a lot of bands who were pretty ordinary, who celebrated their ordinariness, who thought that just because they could do it meant that they should). East Village wrote classic songs that, 25 years on, have lasted. Not many bands have done that.

Just their two EPs in 1988, Back Between Places and Cubans In The Bluefields, would have been enough to secure their place in whatever personal music pantheon I’ve created since then. I know they inspired similar devotion in others.

There was no other British band doing anything like this then - mod’s second-wave immediacy (The Jam, say, but Paul and Martin Kelly insist they were only influenced by their own obsession, Slough’s The Onlookers) by way of Aztec Camera’s High Land, Hard Rain's dramatic intimacy, the menacing beauty of Dylan’s Highway 61 and The Byrds’ ringing guitars. Remember, this was the year of The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane and that’s the closest contemporary reference point.

You should’ve seen them live. Like their records, they burned with an intensity found only in a band with three songwriters. I saw some great gigs when I was 15 (My Bloody Valentine weren’t too shabby then, you know) but East Village trumps them all. When anyone asks me what my favourite-ever gig was, that night when they blew McCarthy off stage comes to mind.

Whether you bought East Village’s one album, Drop Out, in 1993 or when it was reissued in Japan a decade later, I’m certain that you hold it to close to your heart. Dear friends, if you’re reading this and you don’t love Drop Out then I’ll be unable to look at you in quite the same way again.

And here’s the press release, written by Bob Stanley (who financed Drop Out’s original release and wrote the sleeve notes for it):

East Village

Announce re-release of debut album – August 19th 2013. Heavenly Recordings.

East Village were perfectly named, reminiscent of both New York's sixties boho scene and somewhere secluded, somewhere down a b-road in Bucks. Twenty years ago they released their sole album, Drop Out, a nest of chest-high guitars and chiming melancholia. By the time it came out, the four-piece had broken up and moved on. Listening to it now, it feels like an elegy for a particular brand of eighties guitar music, sweet minor chords and Dylanesque lyrics, the kind practised by the Go Betweens, the Weather Prophets, the kind that was caught between stools then and is much missed now.

Guitarist Paul Kelly was a trained pilot. He was also a trained carpenter. This doesn't seem that surprising - East Village's guitar lines sounded wood-carved. Their most mysterious member, and primary songwriter, was called John Wood, like the architect behind Bath. There is classicism at work here too.

East Village's output was small but faultless. Four singles, the first as Episode Four, a flexidisc, the posthumous Drop Out, and a compilation of odds and ends called Hotrod Hotel. All of the original records go for silly money; the Episode Four EP will set you back at least £200. Their last single, Circles, was arguably their best with its two chord organ underpinning autumnal guitar lines that build and build, not unlike of New Order's Ceremony. It may be cold outside, but here's something decidedly warm.

Paul Kelly has gone on to become a respected film-maker, with screenings at the BFI, the London Film Festival and, this year, a retrospective in New York. Bassist Martin Kelly set up Heavenly Recordings with Jeff Barrett, managed Saint Etienne, and now runs Heavenly Films. Drummer Spencer Smith set his heart on becoming the Jason King of Dorset, and is often to be found at his local club. John Wood was rumoured to be living in Japan, where East Village are talked about with great seriousness.

A reunion toured of the far east was recently offered but rejected. This was a place, and a point in time; East Village found somewhere of their own, a neglected spot on the map between the scratchiness of eighties indie and the rise of house. If you ever passed through it, you wouldn't forget it.

Bob Stanley 2013

Monday, 10 June 2013

Nacho Business: I Wanna Talk To You

This is peppy pop with punk bite that could turn autumn to spring. They've got the thrash throwdown of fellow Californians Sourpatch and the punchy hooks of neighbours Sweater Girls (now there's a gig that should happen) and this, just their second 7" in 2 years, reveals that the Ramones' template is the gift that keeps on giving. What's that? Yes, there's some Aislers Set in there, too. It's a knockout pop hit, three times over.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks: How Far Away

Alex Bleeker's debut ep three years ago, These Days, showed that the Real Estate bassist's moonlighting project was at least on terms with his main band. The subsequent album let that promise slide into a pick-up band of mates with no greater aim than jamming after listening to Neil Young's Zuma.

How Far Away, though, takes up These Days' suggestions - Bob Dylan, Teenage Fanclub, The Byrds - and widens the AM radio vibe. Imagine if The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian had taken up the offer to join Crosby, Stills and Nash. Or if Jerry Yester had produced Stephen Stills' solo albums.

The only two contemporary albums from the American underground that have succeeded in carving their own niche out of the 60's US leftfield pop canon and still sounding vital are The Grand Archives' debut and The Mountain Movers' We've Walked in Hell and There Is Life After Death. How Far Away joins them.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Box Bedroom Rebels

There's a new label to watch. Manchester's Box Bedroom Rebels release acts on vinyl "because that's where they belong". There are two 7"s so far, each featuring 5 tracks, punching as much pop as possible in the grooves at 33rpm with not an ounce of fat.

First up is Water World from Manchester who think, correctly, that the post-rock ethic was neat and all but wouldn't it sound great with some tunes. And it does. 5 times over.

Then there's The Faded Tapes, archive recordings by 17-year-old Dane Chadwick before he left home and drummed for Abe Vigoda. It balances sky-high psychedelia with the tension of the American underground and it reminds me of Built To Spill. And that's a very good thing.

There's a third 7" coming next month and dear god this sounds good. Fans of Beach Fossils will have a new favourite band once they hear Tape Waves.

All Box Bedroom Rebels releases are in runs of just 100 and all come packaged lovingly with extras. Look:

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Clearance: Dixie Motel Two-Step

Clearance have trapped an essence of US college rock – the strident, charismatic, poetically noisy one that starred Pavement, Buffalo Tom, Dinosaur Jr and Archers of Loaf – and pencilled the outlines with thicker tunes.

The phrasing is straight out of Malkmus’ copybook and the guitar’s languid whip nods to J Mascis, but this is no pastiche. Like the best bands – and just from their first four songs, you know Clearance have got something special, an essence of their own – they add their own magic potion to the mix.

They’ve self-released a 7” ep, Dixie Motel Two-Step. Do yourself a favour and buy it.

Friday, 3 May 2013

The songs of Grant McLennan

I’m going to pretend I live in a world where Grant McLennan isn’t famous and try to describe his songs to you.

Grant McLennan wrote pop songs like Going Blind and Easy Come Easy Go that, if you were to hear them on daytime radio, would sound right next to I Want To Hold Your Hand and 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover and Morning Train (Nine to Five).

You’d hear them on the radio as you got ready for work or when you were driving to escape the city. They would never sound old. If you didn't hear his pop songs for a few months, the next time you did they’d sound as fresh and bright and jubilant as church bells ringing on Liberation Day.

If I had to describe to you what people mean when they write about love, I’d point you to side 2 of Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express. In particular, I’d play you the songs that bookend that peerless run of songs: In The Core Of A Flame and Apology Accepted.

You’d start by feeling the rush of lust and desire that is passion’s full fire: “If the devil had seen your dress/He would've changed his name/Put down his fork and moved up above/Why burn in hell when you burn for love?” And then you’d learn what love really means by measuring the weight of its loss in Apology Accepted. Better songs may have been written, but when I'm listening to the uncompromising emotion of Apology Accepted I can’t call any of them to mind.

And if someone ever told me that they understood all of mankind’s ways, that they had decoded human intelligence and knew the limits of our ingenuity, then I would sit them in St Paul’s Cathedral in London and play them Cattle and Cane.

I live in a world where Grant McLennan is dead but his songs are alive. Three of my friends are playing his songs live on Sunday. We will be reminded, again, what fantastic songs they are and hear them anew.

Before then, let's listen to Easy Come Easy Go from the Botany sessions, recorded in Grant's home, October 1989.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Souvenir Stand

Now this is good. Good like Barry and Greenwich, good like Gainsbourg's breathy noir, good like The Beach Boys when they sing about girls and cars and hanging out, and good like any number of those tear-stained 60s girl group smashes (melancholy, melodrama and melody in under three minutes; I'm thinking right now of It Hurts To Be Sixteen by Barbara Chandler - pick your own, I bet it'll slug you in the guts just the same).

Souvenir Stand, or Stephanie Cupo from New Jersey, is musical soulmates with Gigi's Maintenant (still the go-to record for contemporary string-swept, rain-soaked heartache), and The School's lipgloss-pop.

If Stuart Murdoch's soundtrack for God Help The Girl had featured songs this good, I'd have donated. Because Souvenir Stand sound like a million bucks.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Scott Miller

Scott Miller died this week. He made many brilliant records, first with Game Theory and then with The Loud Family. Those 1980s Game Theory albums did everything REM's did, only better and with more bite.

Miller thought that "it was essential to hold on to this mid-sixties way of talking about a particular girl with a particular mysterious complexity the way Bob Dylan would, or something" (you should listen to Crash Into June).

Miller had a degree in electrical engineering and used analogue synths and electric drums to complement the jangling, literate romance of his guitar. Game Theory's songs had the conviction that combining Big Star's power pop with The Three O'Clock's paisley underground would define the 80s more accurately than Madonna (you should listen to Penny Things Won't).

Somehow - the usual reasons, you know what they are - neither Game Theory nor The Loud Family broke through. Though there was some attention in the US, they were almost entirely ignored in the UK. In the late 1990s, the band Beulah stayed over at my place after a gig. I put on a Game Theory album - The Big Shot Chronicles, since you ask - and they were elated.

Miller was a near-neighbour of theirs in California. They said he'd be delighted that someone in the UK was a massive fan. I got an email a month later telling me that he was indeed pleased that he was known and well-loved by at least someone. I thought it bittersweet that he wasn't known by tens of thousands. He should've been.

In a 1985 interview, Miller revealed his modesty, realism and pure pop heart:
"We have none of the mysterious appeal of a band like Husker Du, who have overtones of real violence and just confront the world's most heinous problems head on. Or bands like The Cramps that have this kind of ghoulish quality - there's nothing really impressive about any mystique that I have. I'm's just pop. And that's kind of hard to sell sometimes."

Here, read that interview in full:

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Georgiana Starlington: Paper Moon

So this is what Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan would sound like stripped of their studio budget and sent to a shack outside of Nashville with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and Ry Cooder for company. It's dusty and road worn and it aches. There's something of Mazzy Star's ghostly atmosphere in here, too, only this feels more real.

Georgiana Starlington is Jack and Julie Hines moonlighting from their rock band K-Holes. For my money, Georgiana Starlington is where they should go full time. You'll have to flick through a lot of records in the racks to come by one that sustains a spectral presence so captivating as Paper Moon, for one. For two, it's not like Nancy and Lee can make a new album.

In an ideal world, Lee Hazelwood would still be making records and they'd be as good as this. I'm not going to be greedy and ask for another Georgiana Starlington album right now, because I'm certain this one will reveal new layers over many months' listening. There's even a 'hidden track' on the vinyl. It's called I'm Coming Down. You get the picture

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Dick Diver - Calendar Days

Dick Diver occupy the mid-spot between fellow Melburnians Lower Plenty's downbeat, countrified melancholy and Boomgates' suburban pop anthems.

There's common musical ground between all these bands (if you love one, you'll love the other) and in Dick Diver there's also something of The Triffids' bleak Raining Pleasure and The Tender Engines' domestic vignettes. Essentially, they've played Spring Hill Fair a lot more than other Go-Betweens albums.

There's common ground, too, between Dick Diver and Boomgates in Steph Hughes, who owns every song she sings in those bands. She reminds me of Tracey Thorn's deadpan romance and Emma Kupa's keening cry. Calendar Days isn't any kind of departure from debut album New Start Again, but it is even more quietly confident and that little bit better at making the ordinary sound extraordinary.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Rainbow Gun Show - Cinderella Sizzle

Distorted pop like PiL's Death Disco or like Crocodiles if they channelled glam-rock instead of Suicide, Cinderella Sizzle is stuffed full of deranged synths and a nagging, raging guitar riff. Of course there are handclaps. They're from Chicago. This is their first (actual vinyl) single.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Camperdown & Out: Couldn't Be Better

You'll find Camperdown & Out in the middle of The Lemonheads' slacker-jangle, Nodzzz's rattling garage thump and The Tyde's sunny uplands. It hits the sweet spot between fresh pop and raw rock'n'roll.

But if you've already got The Modern Lovers' Roadrunner and Old World, Felt's Something Sends Me To Sleep and Dismantled King Is Off The Throne, and Lou Reed's Vicious, then you've got half this record already. Those songs have been reheated and served up under different names.

Full marks for Camperdown & Out's songs here - they'd have made one of 2013's most exciting EPs. Half marks, though, for the rehashes. I bet if I'd have heard Camperdown & Out's first demo, I'd have jumped at signing them (if I had a record label, you understand), but this album is too much, too soon.

Give them some time and they'll transcend their influences and make an album that can stand proud next to the ones they're so obviously in thrall to.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators - Tortured Soul

Let's get this straight: Tortured Soul is not Keep Reachin' Up part 2. There aren't three songs on here that will be issued on 7" to satisfy the northern soul collectors' hunger. There are some uptempo cuts - Time To Get Business Straight and Break Free (Shake A Tail Feather) - are full of funk fire, but this album doesn't feature If This Ain't Love (Don't Know What Is).

There are precious few albums that wouldn't be improved by the inclusion of If This Ain't Love (Don't Know What Is). But that was 2005. Tortured Soul doesn't try to follow Keep Reachin' Up. It's a different - deeper, more quietly luxurious - experience. The influences - Irma Thomas' A Woman Will Do Wrong on On The East Side, James Carr on the stealthily soulful Best Days Of Our Lives, Bobby Byrd on the dirtily sumptuous It's All Because Of You - make Tortured Soul a richer album.

Tortured Soul didn't take 8 years to make, but it sounds like that much care went into it. It'll last many years longer.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Old Man, Don't Waste Your Time by Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament

They sound like they're having so much fun! I imagine this romp through pop's playground was dreamt up in the pub one night and recorded in the same devil-may-care spirit the next day. "Let's do some pervy purrs a la Jane Birkin!" "Seeing as Lee Thompson's session rate is out of our budget, I'll play the sax!" "And when it comes to the guitar solo, I'm gonna stamp my foot on the fuzz pedal."

Like all great pop songs - and this is great - it sounds like it was written in 5 minutes and caught in one take on tape with a minimum of fuss and bother. It's like Hayman's Bundle! from last year, only bigger and better. 6Music will surely clear the playlist to make room for this.

Oh, you've got to hear the b-side. I Don't Want To Get Used To It channels the countrified melancholy of early 70s Kinks. Extra points for the violin as well.