Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Witching Waves: Fear Of Falling Down

This is melodic mayhem like Husker Du and it’s nervy and sharp like fIREHOSE’s If’n. Witching Waves understand that SST-style hardcore is driven by fast drums and, uh, dischord.

Similar to Caeytana’s Nervous Like Me a few months ago, Fear Of Falling Down matches raucous energy to an uncompromising aural assault. On this highly addictive debut, Witching Waves rip up the garage rock template with the spirit of Olympia DIY and The Raincoats’ edginess. They’re keeping the same company as the excellent Wax Idols.

It’s easy to imagine The Vaselines wishing they’d come up with the compelling dual vocals and dirty pop hook of Better Run. And it’s easy to imagine Barber as the extra song on Sleater-Kinney’s debut. It’s easier still to imagine that 2015 will belong to Witching Waves.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

This is not a 2014 year-end list

I know what you're thinking: "how can you possibly make a best of 2014 when you haven't even got the Chook Race album yet?" This isn't a best of 2014. True, it has got some of 2014's best songs, but this is a compilation for friends - the captains of industry and parents who don't have time to scour the dustiest boxes in the dirtiest record shops and the darkest corners of the internet to find the world's finest new musical treats.

True, a best of 2014 might be Withered Hand's New Gods plus some bonus tracks. But there's no Withered Hand on this compilation because if you haven't got New Gods, there's really no fucking hope for you.

Yes, there are some identifiable themes in 2014, thanks for asking. Melbourne, Dunedin and Philadelphia have the most exciting scenes happening. The shoegaze revival is turning into a musical maelstrom that's surpassing the original scene. No, I wasn't much of a fan of it the first time around, but there are some brilliant records coming out in that - admittedly rather loosely affiliated - scene.

Anti-folk is coming back, too, with predictably mixed results but some ace offerings if you dig deep enough.

Encouraging news reached me recently about last year's compilation. A friend heard it at - I kid you not - a dinner party. He was so impressed by the Prophet Hens he bought the album.

You ask this every year, but this is a CD compilation for friends, not a free download. A mate of mine who runs a small record label told me last year: "I do mind that blogs give away my records for download - when it's one song from a 2-track single, I lose sales." Yes, I know that giving away new music would make my blog much more popular, but if I wanted popularity I wouldn't be listening to this (wonderful, life-affirming) indie crap.

Anyway, the track listing:

Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me
Radiator Hospital - Venus Of The Avenue
Wildhoney - Soft Bats
Strand of Oaks - Goshen '97
Curtis Harding - Keep On Shining
Dream Boys - Positive Arguments
Tops - Change of Heart
Hello Saferide - I Was Jesus
Eyelids - Seagulls Into Submission
Cayetana - Dirty Laundry
Trick Mammoth - Baltimore
Lunchbox - Everybody Knows
Dora Maar - Jessica Says
Contrast - Less Than Zero
Deers - Castigadas En El Granero
Twerps - Always Waiting
Piano Movers - Girlfriend’s Lover
Posse - Jon
Tennis - 100 Lovers
Meenk - Reasons
Alphabetical Order Orchestra - The Corrections
Ciggie Witch - Midday Movie

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Piano Movers: Girlfriend's Lover

So that's what happened to Nodzzz. You remember them, they played garage rock fast and fun. They sang I Don’t Wanna (Smoke Marijuana) because - I thought - they were drinkers. But Piano Movers sound like they're ingesting neither of those drugs.

They sound instead like they've been listening to the offbeat moroseness of They Might Be Giants and the lonely, doomed romanticism of Daniel Johnston. There's some Feelies in there, too. It's a brilliant start. Let's hope there's more to come.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Contrast: Less Than Zero

Melbourne's pop explosion of the last 3 years has largely sidestepped the shoegaze revival. Sure, you've got the spectral atmos of Bored Nothing and Glaciers, but there's definitely been nothing as full-blooded as Contrast.

The Less Than Zero ep is walls of noise, banks of fx pedals, throbbing bass, scattered rhythms and the sort of disaffected ennui that sullenly casts lines like "you're so boring I'd rather be dead than here".

Contrast's record collection might not span much more than Ride, Chapterhouse and Lush, but they've certainly built their sonic adventures from the pick of that range.


Saturday, 29 November 2014

The vinyl revival myth

This week’s announcement that vinyl sales in the UK have passed 1 million copies for the first time since 1996 is based on flawed data.

Only a tiny amount of the 250 records I’ve bought this year, for example, will have been registered by the BPI. I bought most of them in shops the BPI doesn’t monitor, gigs they don’t know about, cottage industry mail order outlets that fly under the BPI's radar, and directly from labels in the UK and abroad.

Some of the criticism about vinyl’s increased popularity is that it’s either mainly releases by heritage acts or reissues of albums bought mostly by people who already own the music on CD.

So when Pink Floyd, the seventh biggest-selling artist of all time (250 million), get the fastest-selling vinyl LP of the century with 6,000 sales priced at around £30 each, we get some perspective about this vinyl revival.

Pink Floyd buyers are older and richer than the idealistic view of teenagers spending their pocket money on records. The BPI’s data is for albums only. Teenagers might be spending their pocket money on 7” singles, but the BPI will never know.

Damon Krukowski made a valid point about record pricing and illegal downloads last year: “I believe that the relationship [between music buyers and artists] 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.”

Record labels, then, have entered into an unspoken pact whereby they’ll sell over-priced vinyl to a relatively well-off demographic.

The BPI’s figures reflect the buying habits of a small number of classic rock fans. This is nothing new. In the early 90s, a popular bhangra act could sell 30,000 tapes. In his essay Cultural Production in the British Bhangra Music Industry, Rajinder Kumar Dudrah makes a similar point to Krukowski when he explains bhangra’s pricing policy in 2002: “An eight-track bhangra album on cassette sells for £3 - £5 compared to British pop albums on cassette and CD priced around £13 and above. This difference between the two music industries has to do with the pricing of bhangra music by its retailers and distributors who have found that Asian audiences are unwilling to pay higher prices in line with mainstream music.”

In the same year, 2002, how many thousands of grime 12”s were sold in Bow? I don’t know and nor does the BPI.

A lot of the underground indie scene has moved back to making tapes in the past 3 years. They’re cheaper to make, there are no delays at pressing plants (want to press 300 7”s? Get in line behind the majors and don’t try to do anything in the 4 months before Record Store Day) and they’re much cheaper to post.

Massive postage increases, principally for the US and UK post offices to cash in on Amazon deliveries, have hit indie labels self-distributing vinyl.

Eventually, some of those tapes do get pressed on vinyl. Girlpool’s tape from early this year has just been released on coloured vinyl by Wichita. Will I be buying it at the Independent Label Market today? Will I fuck.

I’m not calling out Wichita here. Quite simply, there aren’t many of those tapes. The songs deserve a wider audience and I hope they get them. But I won’t be buying them again. That tactic works with major labels and classic rock. It doesn’t work with music fans searching for something new and fresh every week.

Just as the BPI’s sales figures don’t work because they don't count the records bought by music fans searching for something new and fresh every week.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Tomorrows Tulips: When

It never rains in California, where Tomorrows Tulips are based, but it pours. The type of Caledonian rain The Jesus and Mary Chain specialised in - basic pop songs turned messy, magnetic and fuzzed up with guitars.

When really is, for the most part, that basic. It's Ultra Vivid Scene without the art and simplicity itself like Beat Happening's Black Candy. Copying Joy Division's Closer for one song is a bad move, but the rest of When is smart enough to find its own light in the dark.

Listen to Baby. If you don't get it straight off, move along, it's not for you. If you like it, then get the album and go to the checkout.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Weed Hounds

Clattering percussion, furious feedback and ethereal femme vocals - so far, the bog-standard fare of any record in the US shoegaze revival.

But Weed Hounds’ debut album is more adventurous than that. Gales of noise skittle riffs from their moorings, unhinged melodies demand you follow them and disturbing, fragmented rhythms punch unexpectedly.

I took 3 or 4 plays before I realised how good this record is. Give each song a few listens and let their constituent parts unpack themselves. You’ll hear songs that break rules and bend ears. And you’ll be hooked and hypnotised.

If you don’t like adventurous guitar music, there are plenty of other bands to amuse you. But if you like Weekend and Wildhoney and Sweet Bulbs - intense, uncompromising, hard-won pleasures - then you’ll find every answer to your music wish list in Weed Hounds.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

James Brown's best song titles

James Brown - godfather of soul and the hardest working man in show business - had a gift for song titles. Asking Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles if they saw "those cakes" in a hymn to butts mightn't have been his finest moment, but what a song.

For Goodness Sakes, Look At Those Cakes
I Got Ants In My Pants (And I Want To Dance)
I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself)
Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)
It's A New Day So Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn
Just Won't Do Right (I Stay In The Chapel Every Night)
Santa Claus Gave Me A Brand New Start
Don't Tell A Lie About Me And I Won't Tell The Truth On You
Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine
Turn On The Heat And Build Some Fire

Warning: if you play all of these songs it'll get "too funky in here, so open up the window and gimme some air".



Saturday, 25 October 2014

John Peel offensive content

The BBC bigwigs put their Parents Music Resource Center hat on in 2004 and deemed that the delicate wallflowers who listened to grindcore and grime needed warning about "offensive content".

Undergound music had obviously gone down a seriously scatological sidestreet since Peel's favourite album of 1988, Carcass' Reek of Putrefaction, which featured such family favourites as Vomited Anal Tract and Genital Grinder.

If Peel was going to fling filth at the kids, they needed to be warned. When the list of public-spirited musicians - Albini, Gedge, The Delgados (if I remember correctly) - was exhausted Peel turned to his listeners.

I dedicated up to 30 seconds to scribble a public service announcement and then emailed it:

If colourful language, badinage of an adult nature and punk-ass kids swearing with youthful brio offends you, then you’re probably listening to the wrong programme.

We don’t question you why you’re listening, but merely ask that if you stay tuned in you should drop out and enter into the spirit of the John Peel wingding.

That very night, Peel sombrely announced that no contributions of worth had come from listeners. But the next morning I got a very excitable email from his production assistant asking me to record it, preferably on minidisc. I had a minidisc recorder (I still do - reasonable offers accepted) and breast bursting with pride that I was saving Britain's youth from unwittingly hearing about sucka MCs, I recorded my missive.

I can't say that I listened every night thereafter. There were gigs to go to and pubs to be patronised. So I don't know if I got played on the John Peel show. It's not like I made a record. But I did feel part of a community every night - and there were very many nights - I listened over the course of 18 years.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The truth about Withered Hand and my dog

Tonight at the Scala gig, Dan said on stage I looked sad because of my dog. Let me put the record straight.

2 years ago I put up Dan - then an impoverished minstrel - after he supported a rock band in London. I left Dan in my flat when I went to work the next day. When I returned, my dog was pregnant.

Quick work, right? I'm not suggesting Dan "interfered" with my dog. You see, even then, before Dan strode the world like a rock love god, he had a magical sexual power that could impregnate animals just by looking at them.


Dan said sorry tonight, again, about my dog. It was a long time ago. I'm over it. I can't speak for the dog, but she seems ok. I was surprised that Dan said my dog was now dead. I suppose it was what she would have wanted. Had she been asked.

There's no moral here. On the way out of the venue tonight, someone asked me what I'd done to Dan's dog. This is how rumours start. There's a chance that if this blog post isn't published, I may be thought of as someone who messed around with a rock star's dog. I didn't.

It's worth concluding with the fact that I don't have a dog. I never have done. Not even an imaginary one. But this long-running joke, or shaggy-dog story if you like, is in danger of ruining the reputation of either a kick-ass rock love god (Dan) or a mithering indie milksop (me).

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Radiator Hospital: Torch Song

Torch Song is better than last year's - admittedly very fine - Something Wild album by the same magnitude It's A Shame About Ray is better than Lovey.

Like the Lemonheads, Radiator Hospital turn bone-crunching riffs into sweet pop hits. No one, surely, will need persuading to play Honeymoon Phase repeatedly. This and Blue Gown and Bedtime Story have that immediate powerpop energy that puts in a pep in your step. They'd sound great on daytime radio. Or in a car with the roof down.

Philly in 2014 is sounding as exciting as Boston in 1990. So far only Waxahatchee are getting the attention, but make space for Radiator Hospital, Cayetana, Little Big League and Strands Of Oak. Right, I'm going to play Sunburn by The Blake Babies. Then Torch Song again. And again.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Buy these records

The wiaiwya singles club hits 3 new highs. You should buy them all. Yes, they look great - these picture discs are very attractive - but, god, they sound great.

My Favorite
Ah, the sound of Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat. Dance With A Stranger is a twilit Domino Dancing. Second Empire is what Say Hello, Wave Goodbye would have sounded like if it had been recorded as the Berlin Wall came down. Somewhere in the background David Bowie is smoking a cigarette and musing on the futility of discotheques. This is, er, my favourite.



The Human Hearts (with Franklin Bruno and Jenny Toomey)
Distracted should have been Vanessa Paradis' follow up to Be My Baby. Flip it over and it's cocktail hour as Loyal Opposition brushes shoulders with The Girl From Ipanema while John Barry dims the lights and ups the atmos. It's entirely reasonable to imagine that Jenny and Franklin recorded this while wearing monogrammed pyjamas. No, this is my favourite.



eagleowl
As lovely as it's lonely, eagleowl match gentle menace with brooding lullaby. Life We Knew is a funereal shanty, bleakly captivating and rousing, and a reminder that the boys Yorkston and Roberts used to make records this good. Yes, they still make good records, but not quite this good. And that's just the b-side. Clean The Night is just as strong. No, this is...Oh, fuck it, they're all my favourites. Buy these records. You'll love them.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Allo Darlin: We Come From The Same Place

Allo Darlin was where they found their feet and Europe was where they learnt to run. We Come From The Same Place is where Allo Darlin are bigger, bolder and better than before.

Kings and Queens gets renewed with a sledgehammer bassline, Half Heart Necklace is the song J Mascis forgot to write, and Bright Eyes sounds like it hitched a ride on Halley's Comet.

Bright Eyes is a duet between Elizabeth Morris and guitarist Paul Rains. It makes good the weak spot, Dreaming, in their back catalogue. Where Dreaming sounded like it was played for laughs, or karaoke, Bright Eyes is confident, playful, ragged and knocked about. It reminds me in a way of Otis and Carla's Tramp. This whole album has that loose Memphis groove.

Allo Darlin didn't get this good by accident. They've toured for most of the past 5 years. They didn't get rich and famous along the way. No one does at this end of the music business. So they still play for love. And it shows. I admire Elizabeth for turning down big money last year for a Benetton advert (for using an Allo Darlin song, I think, or maybe for a photo shoot - I sometimes forget stuff I'm told in the pub).

I admire her and the band heaps more for this record. Part of me thinks it will be their last because of the normal demands of earning money, raising families and living in separate countries might get in the way of making another record. If so, they leave on a high. If not, We Come From The Same Place will ensure them a bigger audience for the next one.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gorilla: Mary Anne

You can check your DIY Come Out And Play: American Power Pop compilations but you won't find Mary Anne by Gorilla there. You will find the same energetic riffs, yearning for girls, sweet and effective guitar solos, and the kind of, uh, cheap tricks kids with skinny ties and guitars turned in the late 1970s. The b-side has all of the above, too.

Gorilla are from Japan. These songs are on 7". They had to be.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Temporary: Selections from Dunedin's Pop Underground 2011 - 2014

Shayne Carter got it right about NZ music when he said about the Dunedin scene: "You're braver when it doesn't really matter, less self-conscious when you think nobody's listening."

The obvious reference point for Fishrider's compilation of the new New Zealand underground is Flying Nun's 1982 Dunedin Double compilation. Fishrider is capturing a scene at an exciting time - recent releases by The Prophet Hens, Males and Trick Mammoth have placed the label as the foremost chronicler of the kiwi underground - but Temporary is a very different enterprise to Dunedin Double.

Temporary showcases Fishrider's artists, kindred spirits and fellow travellers. It quite clearly dismisses the idea that Dunedin only has one sound. How else would you explain Mr Biscuit's riot grrrl sounds that belong more to Olympia than anywhere else? Or Strange Harvest's brittle electro folk? Or Kane Strang's strung-out psychedelia?

This daring, inventive collection has more in common with 1980s NZ compilations Off Our Shoulders and Unexplored - A Compilation Of New Zealand Recordings 1982-86 than it does with the Dunedin Double. It opens the doors to a thriving, genuinely exciting scene and is strong enough to demand, correctly, that the world takes notice.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Fuck Yeah! Choo Choo Train

The late 80s to early 90s indiepop boom in the USA inspired some great fanzines. Fuck Yeah! was one of the best. Issue 2 (just "one clam" at the newsstands) came with celebrity endorsements, eg: "I just like the word FUCK, it makes me happy" - Clare, Sarah Records.

This issue had an interview with Choo Choo Train. Predictably, Ric does most of the talking (if you ever saw him on stage, he hogged the limelight even from behind the drum kit).


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Joanna Gruesome and Trust Fund Split 12"

In which 2012's and 2013's most exciting tape debuts come together on one record. You know all about Joanna Gruesome, or you did until you hear their 3 new songs.

Because there's now space inside the sonic assault. Where there was once violence there is now menace. Guitars bicker belligerently and it's still a deliciously filthy noise, but this is better produced, better written and, precisely because Joanna Gruesome sound more confident, just better than they've been before. And you know just how good they were before.

Trust Fund have the kind of magical musical trickery that could make you believe 2 plus 2 equals 5. These songs are pure theatre, balancing Jonathan Richman's tenderness with Beulah's high-wire psychedelic pop and Flaming Lips' stratospheric opuses.

Don't ask me to pick a favourite. That'd be like picking a favourite child. And if I had children then social services would be knocking at the door and I want both these bands to have the freedom to make more brilliant records.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Flowers: Do What You Want To, It's What You Should Do


Those early Flowers songs sounded like a train going through a tunnel. Recorded at home on one track, those blizzards of noise offset by Rachel Kennedy's spectral voice are not just really good pop songs: they suggested that Flowers had much more to give.

Bernard Butler's production on the Do What You Want To, It's What You Should Do album gives Flowers' songs the space to breathe. They're a bit quieter, but far more dramatic. Like the McCarthy singles Frans Hals and Red Sleeping Beauty, the tension builds and builds. The disembodied vocals - an instrument itself - most obviously points to Elizabeth Fraser, but these songs are tougher and more direct than the Cocteau Twins.

There's the vigorous and intense riff on Comfort - a close cousin to The Wedding Present's This Boy Can Wait - and then there's the interpretation of the Be My Baby drumbeat on Anna. Not an entirely original reference point, for sure, but Flowers have the atmosphere and melodrama to put it next to another Be My Baby lift, the Magnetic Fields' When You Were My Baby. Way classier, then, than most other records you'll hear this year.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Cayetana: Nervous Like Me

Listening to this album is like receiving a letter from an old friend: immediately warm and inviting, recalling great times, familiar yet remarkably fresh.

Nervous Like Me is very early 90s - hurricane-force guitars, giant riffs carved in stone, dramatic hooks - but also very 2014. You could file this with the Crutchfield sisters, Burnt Palm and The Courtneys (to name just three) if you want to create a distaff rock scene. More likely, there's something pretty special going on in Philadelphia. Say, Cayetana, do you and Little Big League want to do a package tour of the UK?

You'll probably know their Hot Dad Calendar single. In which case, you'll buy this album today. If you don't, dive straight in:

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Bad Family

A couple of years ago I saw a band in Melbourne called Big Tobacco. Given their name I thought they'd sound like Joe Pernice. They didn't. In my - but maybe not their - wildest dreams I wished they'd sounded like Joe Pernice's Big Tobacco.

New Melbourne band Bad Family, though, do sound like the original Big Tobacco - crystal clear guitars, powerpop energy and enough melodic brilliance to recall favourite singles by McCarthy and The Smiths.

There's no cheap way to get this record sent to the UK. And in my experience it'll come packaged very badly.




Sunday, 31 August 2014

Smile: Blvd

Countrified slacker rock - like the Silver Jews and Teenage Fanclub, or Lemonheads on the comedown, or Pavement on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, or Luna's bewitching melodies. Really good stuff. You get the idea.





So slack, in fact, there's no stream of it. But if you know last year's Life Choices album, you'd buy it without hearing it, too. Because Life Choices has the brilliant VU-update Still Waiting For My Man, it's got a glassy guitar riff on the wonderfully titled Stoned (Get These Fucking Flies Off My Fucking Face/Shut Up And Make Money) and it's got Sunni Hart.

Sunni Hart is an uncompromising explosion of devotion to one woman. It's in the same league as The Modern Lovers' The New Teller and Buzzcocks' Love You More. It offers more in just 70 seconds than some bands do in a whole career.


Sunni Hart / Born Again by SMILE from MAX TURNER on Vimeo.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Hummingbirds

Alvvays – writers of the year’s biggest pop song, Archie, Marry Me –have the good taste to cover The Hummingbirds’ 1987 debut Alimony live. I hope they record it and introduce The Hummingbirds to a new audience.




After Alimony, The Hummingbirds released 3 more powerpop singles – every one of them a peach - in 1988 on Sydney’s Phantom label. It’d be very difficult to find fault with any side of these records, so I won’t even try.

Guitarist Simon Holmes said:
I was very big on this whole Smiths or Beatles idea of putting out a new single every three months, putting new stuff out all the time: bang, bang bang. It was an exciting thing to do.

They then signed to rooArt. Their first big-label single Blush has a booklet where the band tell their story:

The legendary Mitch Easter worked on their 1989 Love Buzz album. Unusually, Easter’s Midas touch didn’t work. All 4 of the Phantom songs reworked by Easter sound better with their original sandpaper riffs, cheap hiss, guts and glory.

At the time this looked like a classic case of big money trying to get an indie band to cross over to the charts. It didn’t help that their videos were mostly awful.

But they were still great tunes and the US market, especially, takes to commercial powerpop. Maybe the time and the image wasn’t right. 2 years later when The Hummingbirds released their second album Va Va Voom, grunge had crossed over. Radio and TV were playing 'alternative rock' like never before. The door was open for The Hummingbirds to reach a big audience.

Again produced by Mitch Easter, Va Va Voom is brutally beautiful, tender, tough and hook-laden. It really is one of the great lost albums of the 1990s. The same year, 1991, Matthew Sweet made the US top ten with Girlfriend. It takes no leap of faith to believe that If A Vow could have had similar success.




The time was right for The Hummingbirds. If only their label had kept faith in them, they’d have been massive. But Va Va Voom only got an Australian release. Someone should reissue it. It's a masterpiece.

The Lemonheads scored their biggest hit in 1993 with Into Your Arms, co-written by Hummingbirds bassist Robyn St Clare in her other band the Love Positions.



Disregarding commercial concerns, any time is right for The Hummingbirds. You’ll have no trouble finding Love Buzz cheap in a second-hand shop. And hunt down Va Va Voom. You won’t regret it.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Haircut: Sweatshop

Funny, ain’t it, that of all the many great new bands from Melbourne in the past 3 years, there isn’t one you could say ‘that’s the new Lucksmiths’. You can now.

Haircut’s Sweatshop tape has got the misery and melody (World I’m From), the instant jangle (Sweatshop Mermaid) and the desperate suburban longing (Life After Extreme Weight Loss - neat titles, huh?) to mark it out as classic indiepop.

If this were the early 90s, Haircut would be on Summershine with The Rainyard, The Sugargliders and The Tender Engines. Don’t know those bands? Start with Haircut - the new stuff is always more exciting - and work backwards. You’ll have a great week.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Frankie Cosmos: Zentropy

The K label must have been on holiday when Zentropy was doing the rounds because this fits right between the ramshackle thud of Beat Happening’s Black Candy and the falling-apart fragility of The Crabs’ Sea and Sand.

Frankie Cosmos - or Greta Klein - is so young (19) that on Birthday Song she measures age in days not years. You can measure her songs in seconds not minutes: nothing’s wasted or left out, even - or especially - in the 67-second stark confessional I Do Too.

All 10 songs fit on one side of a 12”. They do everything they’re meant to.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Robert Forster: Q & A

If you weren't in a band what would you like to do? "A magician."


From Shy Like You zine, 1987.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Ciggie Witch: Rock and Roll Juice

This has all the low-slung drawl of Lower Plenty and Dick Diver’s immediate pop appeal. Like Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, it’s got plenty of low-level alienation, basketball references on Internet and Taylors Lake, and a distinct sense of Australian suburban life.

They call this music dolewave, which is Australian for slacker rock, but there’s much more to what is an incredibly evocative and engaging album. Like Posse’s Soft Opening - maybe 2014’s most criminally unheralded record - Rock and Roll Juice is quietly affecting and, in places, genuinely moving.

Ciggie Witch’s gift for tender, countrified and careworn songs makes them the best bet since The Grand Archives’ exquisite debut 6 years ago to make the follow-up to Summerteeth that Wilco never nailed.




Thursday, 7 August 2014

1979 Now!: Vic Godard & Subway Sect

You know how good Caught in Midstream is? Course you do:



Vic's northern soul album is out on October 6. This is very good news. Here's the press release:

After the release of 1978 NOW in 2007, a re-recording of Subway Sect’s ‘lost album’, recording and releasing Vic’s Northern Soul songs seemed a natural follow on. Initiated into the world of Northern Soul after Paul Myers passed on a bundle of 45s in 1978, the deceptive simplicity of many of the records convinced Vic to start practicing songs he had been writing in his bedroom, which would eventually lead to 1979 being one of his most productive song writing years.

An unexpected support slot for Siouxsie and The Banshees in Camden, 1980, meant many of the songs comprising 1979 NOW! got their first airing. Alan Horne recorded everything from their Northern Soul inspired instrumental opener, which was later reprised to close the set to songs such as Caught In Midstream and The Devil’s in League With You. The bootleg eventually found its way to Edwyn Collins, who chose to record Holiday Hymn for Orange Juice’s 1981 Peel Session.

Nearly thirty years later and the seeds of 1979 NOW! took root, but went on the back burner as attention turned to other things, like recording We Come As Aliens, gigs and the release of Live In Stereo (2009 gnu inc).

Fast-forward to 2010 and with WCAA released (CD Overground/Vinyl gnu inc.) attention briefly returned to 1979 NOW! Eventually, after careful consideration, Myers agreed to come on board with Vic’s long time collaborator, friend and fellow Chelsea fan Paul Cook, to record 1979 NOW! and perform live with Subway Sect; Kevin Younger, Mark Braby and Yusuf B’Layachi.

Work began on the first 1979 NOW! tracks at West Heath Studios in 2012 with Edwyn Collins and Seb Lewsley recording and producing. By spring 2013, with four tracks in the bag, AED Records released the Caught In Midstream/ You Bring Out The Demon In Me 7 inch. Recording continued through 2013, mixing and mastering completed in April 2014.

TRACKLISTING SIDE 1
1979 Now! Intro
Holiday Hymn
Happy Go Lucky Girl
The Water Was Bad
Caught In Midstream

SIDE 2
The Devil’s In League With You
You Bring Our The Demon In Me
You Made Me
Born To Be A Rebel
Get That Girl
1979 Now! Outro

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Bluebells: Exile On Twee Street

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that the demos are always better than the 'proper' recordings,” Bluebells bassist Lawrence Donegan claims.

The 20 demos on Exile On Twee Street don’t fully support that claim. The Bluebells’ vision of fusing Celtic folk passion with jangling Byrds guitars and Lovin’ Spoonful melodic intensity is only fully realised on some of their songs when they had a major label’s recording budget.

But some of the original versions here are better - Red Guitar is more powerful with its demo spit than it is with London’s polish. Small Town Martyr regains its poise and whip stripped bare of 80s production values. And Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, their mooted Postcard debut, would in its reckless abandon to romantic vagaries need no reworking.

The Bluebells were progenies of Orange Juice. And they were much better at realising their vision on a major label than Orange Juice. So Exile On Twee Street is no Ostrich Churchyard, the album Orange Juice would have put out on Postcard.

Every song on Ostrich Churchyard that was redone on Polydor for You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever shows higher production values didn’t benefit Orange Juice. All their songs had greater effect on a shoestring budget. When Edwyn Collins misses every one of the high notes covering Al Green’s L-O-V-E (Love) you can imagine Polydor’s A&R department looking for a release clause in Orange Juice’s contract. Failure never sounded so glorious.

The Bluebells’ One Last Love Song, Wishful Thinking and No One Ever Waves Goodbye wouldn’t sound out of place on Ostrich Churchyard. There’s a fantastic album in Exile’s 20 tracks. Maybe the forthcoming vinyl issue will reveal what the band think that might be.

I know what I think the album might be; you, too, will have your favourites because there are many great songs here. There are also many great songs on The Bluebells’ 1984 album, Sisters: Syracuse University, Cath and I’m Falling, for example.

They were a great band. Maybe in the early 80s there was only room at the top for one band in the charts, Dexys, to combine Irish folk music with searing passion. But The Bluebells had hits and they looked at home on the pop star circuit:



Yes, they scored a posthumous number one with Young At Heart on the back of a TV ad in 1993. But that’s a different story entirely. The real story - and what a story - is somewhere in Exile On Twee Street.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

An interview with The Clouds

The Clouds made one fexi and one single, 1986 to 87. That was it. People rightly still talk about them today. The brothers Charnley liked drinking and hated everything else, especially other indie bands and, rumour maintains, each other. But maybe that was the drink talking.

I only remember one interview with them, from the excellent Shy Like You zine:


Someone must have a load of Clouds demos. A retrospective would go down very well. For fun, compare and contrast Joanna Gruesome's Pantry Girl with Tranquil:



Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Garment District: If You Take Your Magic Slow


These songs have The Left Banke's whispered grandeur, Joe Byrd and The Field Hippies' experimental mini-symphonies and Broadcast's eerie way of fusing quicksilver electronics to Eastern European folk music.

There's a song called Bell, Book and Candle, surely a nod to the 1958 film soundtrack. But my money's on The Tomorrow People television music being more important. Because Jennifer Baron, who is The Garment District and used to be in The Ladybug Transistor, must own some Delia Derbyshire records on the basis of this spectral, otherworldly songs.

Vocals feature on only 3 of these songs. It's all about the atmos. Baron doesn't sing on any of these. If you want to hear her vocals, check out Even Stevens by The Lucksmiths. If you want something brand new that has vintage hallmarks, buy If You Take Your Magic Slow.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Nine Steps To Ugly

One of indiepop's shouldabeens - or should've released more than just one flexidisc in 1988 - Nine Steps To Ugly left a brief but enduring legacy. There's very little information about the band, so here's an interview they did with Two Pint Take Home, the fanzine that came with 100 copies of the flexi.



Incidentally, The Onlookers that the drummer Mark Bevis played in were the Slough-based mod band that the youngsters who went on to be East Village used to follow around and claim as their biggest influence.

Nine Steps To Ugly released another song, Apart, on a compilation tape. They made a load of other recordings. I hope someone's working on issuing them. There'd be some treasure in their vaults.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Summer hits

I don't need a weatherman to tell me when summer starts. It's only summer when Laura Nyro's Stoned Soul Picnic starts:



They came, they played giddy orchestral pop songs and they left. But what a legacy! It got no better - it seldom does - than The Magic Kids' first single, Hey Boy:



Summer in the city in 10 minutes of Latin disco that never lets the pace drop. "Are you ready for 1977?" Fuck yeah!



School's out, everyone's at the beach and making out. Except Nella Dodds, because her boy's left her and she's hurting. No one said summer was fun.



Actually, Bruce and Terry did say summer was fun in what's a very similar song to the even-better Tell Em I'm Surfin' by The Fantastic Baggys. But then The Baggys wrote both songs.



It seems so long ago now that every Best Coast song sounded like a classic. They're so strong and immediate cheerleaders and hipsters would have Best Coast on a playlist. You could pick any song from Crazy For You and go home happy.






Sunday, 13 July 2014

Earth Girls: Wrong Side of History

I know, I thought we'd reached 'peak bands from the USA called something Girls' about 5 years ago. But because Earth Girls make all the right noises - most obviously the Shop Assistants' blitz, the Buzzcocks' direct force and The Go-Go's early power pop adventures - it would be wrong to complain about something so fresh and strong.

There's enough energy in these 4 rattling, clattering, punky songs to dismiss the cynics and jolt even the most tired bodies into action.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

BMX Bandits: Islands in the Stream

When Kurt Cobain said, "If I could be in any other band, it would be BMX Bandits," I expect he was thinking of their version of Islands in the Stream. I'm certain, or perhaps delusional, that Kurt'n'Courtney sang this at home on special occasions.

This version features Norman Blake on lead "axe" duties.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Bob: Kirsty demo

Once upon a time there was band called Jamie Wednesday. A friend some years my senior explained that when they split up with 2 members (Jim Bob and Fruitbat) forming Carter USM and the other, Dean Leggett, forming Bob, fans had to take sides.

I believe him, largely because wars were fought in the 1980s indie trenches over much smaller things. Anyway, the Jamie Wednesday schism passed me by, so I feel I can speak with confidence - and, false modesty aside, complete authority - when I say Bob were the far better band. I bought all their records and none of Carter's.

The public backed, not for the first time, the poorer band, Yes, Carter enjoyed a number one album, frolicked with Phillip Schofield on the telly and sold lots of t-shirts. But did they release lots of great records? No, they did not.

Bob have collected lots of those songs on the 2 CD Leave The Straight Life Behind. It includes their radio sessions, which I think are their best recordings.

It also features 2 versions of my favourite Bob single, Kirsty. But not this demo, so here goes:



Fact: the Fortuna Pop! label takes its motto "more soul than the Wigan Casino" from a line in Bob's Brian Wilson's Bed.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Meenk

With The Cannanes' happy swing, KEEL HER's bite-size infectious melodies and the sadness of Carole King, Meenk - or May Rio to her parents (ok, that might not even be her real name, I haven't got much to go on) - has made 4 songs that you could file under post-punk or girl group or DIY.

Any of those things. These songs might be quiet, but they're clever and match intimacy with intricacy. They're much bigger than they first seem. They remind me of The Shirelles because of teenage drama and Buddy Holly because all really good pop music does. It'll remind you, too, of good things.

I think we have ourselves a new star.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Mid-Term Review

Music websites are having their "mid-term reviews" because it's a cheap and simple way to fill up pages. And because there's a fairly annoying tendency in American music criticism to use academia as a frame of reference.

There's a Dean of American Rock Critics (disclaimer: I think Professor Griff and Dr Dre either got their qualifications off the internet or hip hop isn't considered important enough for those titles to be recognised formally).

You'll have either read several reviews or got thousands of press releases describing something as "sophomore". The word they're after is "second". I've stopped reading any review and deleted every press release that uses sophomore when it should be second.

Anyway, record stores shops are doing mid-term reviews this year. I know, it's never-ending. So this post isn't a mid-term review. It's a collection of a few things I haven't until now had a chance to blog about.

Strand of Oaks: Goshen 97
I love the sound of falling in love with music. Goshen 97 is about "when the magic began" in a basement. There's celebration and regret in equal measure "I was lonely but I was having fun...I don't want to start all over again". And then there's J Mascis on guitar.



Girlpool: American Beauty
You can pick any one of the 7 songs from their tape and find knockout lines like "it's not enough to watch a movie/eat me out to American Beauty". Girlpool have got all the spit of Dogs Legs and the sass of Slutever, only they strip everything right back to the bare bones.



Little Big League: Year of the Sunhouse
They can't write a bad song. Or if they have done, they've thrown it away. Another 2 hits and even better they're loving doing it as much as I am listening to it: "They ask are you still playing basement shows with the band?/Doing the music thing? Well yes I fucking am!"


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Wildhoney: Seventeen forever

This has got everything last year's debut 7" ep had - squalling guitars, rapid-fire drums, gales of twisted noise - only more. It's almost perverse that Seventeen ("slow swing" etched on the run-out groove) gets the a-side billing when Get Out Of My Dreams and Soft Bats ("dream thing" on the run-out groove) share the b-side when those songs have got more zip in their engine.

No matter. This is Ecstasy-era My Bloody Valentine and early Pale Saints pop. I'm certain you're not bored of Joanna Gruesome yet - how could you be - but Wildhoney are more than 'if you like JoGru you'll love Wildhoney'. Way more. Because if I'm in charge of the charts then this goes to number one.


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Lunchbox Loves You

It seems too strong to say that Lunchbox have been written out of history simply because they were never in it. They wouldn't have existed without Rocketship - whose jubilant keyboards and punchy guitar riffs inform Lunchbox's moves - who themselves haven't even got into the history books.

But Lunchbox Loves You, their 5th album, deserves at least a footnote of its own in pop history. Any 1 of these 10 songs could turn winter into summer. Past forays into shoegaze are gone and pop is all over the place. So Lunchbox Loves You shares sonic space with The Aisler Set's The Last Match, Beulah's When Your Heartstrings Break and The Fun and Games' Elephant Candy.

Sweet though this is, sickly it ain't. Like The Beach Boys, Lunchbox hide sadness in sunbeams. On Another Dance Floor they're just "trying to forget myself...I could be someone else". They're from California. Of course they are.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Owl & Mouse: Somewhere To Go

Spite seldom sounds so sweet as it does on Don't Read the Classics: "how I wish you could have been a fucking man". Owl & Mouse's Hannah Botting came to London from Australia in 2008. She bought a cheap ukulele and taught herself to play by learning Magnetic Fields songs.

These quietly energetic and stylish songs remind me of Alan Horne's description of Subway Sect, that the idea is to "work not with power, but with weakness and introversion".

Sure, no one who went to the Download festival is going to embrace this spare and haunting ep, but anyone who a few years ago dismissed Owl & Mouse as somehow too lightweight will be converted. Because Somewhere To Go is a very substantial and richly rewarding record.



Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Chills live

Martin Phillips sourced and selected 97 Chills songs - "rarities for the fans only", including demos, live takes, studio out-takes, radio sessions, jingles and soundtracks - and released them in 2000 as the Secret Box triple CD.

Phillips wrote notes for each song. Here are 3 of the live takes:



Declaration - Captain Cook, Dunedin, 5/5/84
There are those who have tried to re-write history so that The Chills were pop star wannabes and this annoys me because we consistently played at least as powerfully as most of our peers and our success was not due to selling out to the mainstream with obvious hits. There is no such thing. I have always written from the heart whether it's punk pop, novelty, dark atmosphere, or whatever.


Frozen Fountain - Captain Cook, Dunedin, 5/5/84
Sure, with hindsight, my little anti-deity rant seems immature, but on a good night this was a very powerful song and it's one of the main reasons this project came into being as it is fondly remembered by many of our earlier audiences. My voice seldom lasted until the end of this song and certainly not on this performance.


If This World Was Made For Me - Rumba Bar, Auckland, 25/2/82
Once again, this is the only available version and it has the earlier 'Martin's Paradise' lyrics. Terry Moore always thought that this indicated a new direction for the band and it features one of his first "bass breaks".

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Shivvers

They spelt their name wrong like The Beatles, they played power pop like The Raspberries and knew their British Invasion bands - all pitch-perfect melodies, punchy hooks and tremulous drama - inside out. They should have been bigger than Cheap Trick and anyone who bought a Blondie record would have loved them. If they'd heard them.

Like Big Star, one of their most obvious influences, and any number of Nuggets garage rock lost classics, they flew under the radar. What we've got now is the 11 songs recorded from 1979 to 1981 which would have been their debut album. Remastered and fresh as new paint, this is what a rock'n'roll group sounds like when there are no marketing and A&R departments meddling with a simple and pure aesthetic.

The Shivvers self-released one 7" in 1980, Teenline, which is everything you'd want in a pop single. Wait until you're very rich to buy an original of that, one of power pop's holy grail. In the meantime, Sing Sing's issue of the album - gatefold sleeve, poster, extensive sleeve notes - is worth its weight in blood diamonds.


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Gold-Bears: Dalliance

Buy this record if you:
  • like super-charged guitars
  • have played This Love Is Fucking Right! more than any other song by the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
  • thought the Gold-Bears were pretty neat but all they needed was to turn up the amps even more
  • wondered what those very first Stereolab eps would sound like if they'd never heard the Silver Apples
  • know, deep down, that The Wedding Present never got better after George Best
  • get excited by manic pop thrills

Don't buy this record if you're:
  • a fucking moron

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Chills

"When we first recorded Kaleidoscope World we thought, 'This is a definite radio song.' We thought the same with Doledrums. But they didn't get radio play, so I don't worry about it now."
NZ Herald, January 16 1987


"I'm continually writing, so as a result we're doing about 30 songs at the moment. There's another 16 completed ones we could be doing, and the basis for another 150."
TNT magazine, 1987



"What I want to do is catch those feelings that you have which aren't named. They're sort of not anger and they're not sorrow. They're those strange feelings I want to make universal so a person in any country could hear the bit of music and know what it meant."
I Love My Leather Jacket press release, Flying Nun UK, 1987


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Hit Parade: Cornish Pop Songs

23 years after More Pop Songs, The Hit Parade turn their attentions to Cornish Pop Songs. This move doesn’t quite see the self-styled “London's No.1 Pop Group” turn into “Cornwall’s No.1 Pop Group” but the Cornish milieu dominates proceedings. There’s even - gasp! - biting social commentary on The Ghost of the Fishing Fleet.


Did someone say concept album? How wrong they were. This is very much a Hit Parade album, so it’s songs about girls and being a bit of a loser in love. Old musical themes are revisited: Spector piano on From Paddington to Penzance, fist-pumpin’ punk pop on Treen Girl, pocketbook electropop on See You At The Seaside, gurlie dickweed indie on Zennor Mermaid.

So business as usual, then. Only instead of getting dumped in London’s leafy western suburbs, it will come as no surprise when our hero Julian Henry advises us that the “girl from Penzance/kicks me in the pants”.



Cornish Pop Songs (CD) is released by JSH Records on June 16.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Cretin Stompers: Looking Forward To Being Attacked

So this is what Husker Du playing Suicide sounds like. Or Tunabunny fucking around with Psychedelic Horseshit. The Looking Forward To Being Attacked album suggests that Cretin Stompers might have been putting something a little stronger in their tea than NutraSweet and soy milk.

I'm not sure how else you'd suggest they arrived at this fried-distortion-whacked-out-glam-punk noise.

The only other label than Hozac it's possible to imagine releasing this is Burger. So I guess there'll be a cassette release of this on Burger sometime.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Nice Try - Convinced ep

The Nice Try 6-song 7" has hit Britain's import racks. Good news! 2 of the songs are under a minute, 2 just over a minute, the other 2 just the right length as well. There's no fat on these lean, wiry songs. No room for guitar solos or dicking around - just up and at 'em, in your face and then out of there.

If Sassy magazine was still going, then Nice Try would be a shoo-in for the Cute Band Alert feature. There's not much more to this than teen angst and ragged guitars but it presses all the right buttons.


Monday, 12 May 2014

Deers

This is Waxahatchee only more primitive. It's flashes of white light and white heat. It's Dum Dum Girls in 2008 - ramshackle, raw and deliciously disturbing.

They recorded 2 songs quick as you like with the controls set to distortion and fuck-off pop. They're Shangri-Las melodrama and Black Tambourine whiplash snarl. Both songs are magnificent.

Deers are from Madrid. They'll sign a million dollar record deal sometime this year.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Dexys - Nowhere Is Home film

Friday night's premiere of Nowhere Is Home revealed it's a beautifully shot film that captures the heartbeat and passion of Dexys' fourth album, One Day I'm Going To Soar.

The first 3 Dexys albums are very different from each other - punk anger fused with soul passion, then quickstep Celtic folk with gospel romance, then southern soul with spiritual ballads. That breadth of vision is a small part of Dexys' greatness.

But One Day I'm Going To Soar builds, despite the 27-year gap, on the theatrical premise of the third album, Don't Stand Me Down. We'll not say rock opera about either of those; let's call it musical drama. One Day I'm Going To Soar is, song by song, an obvious attempt to sustain a narrative and the run of shows at London's Duke of York theatre presented the album as a musical.

So Nowhere Is Home is both a filming of a musical that, for financial reasons, had a limited run and, through interviews with Kevin Rowland and Big Jimmy Patterson, a Dexys biopic.

This isn't the One Day I'm Going To Soar film with the interviews and non-album songs as DVD extras. The question remains, though, if the film will appeal to a non-partisan crowd rather than just Dexys fans.

It's a tough question. Watching the performance of This Is What She's Like from Don't Stand Me Down reminded me that when I thought there could be such a thing as a greatest album ever made then it was obviously Don't Stand Me Down. Dexys are a band with 2 number one singles - one of them 1982's biggest seller - but neither Don't Stand Me Down nor One Day I'm Going To Soar caught the public's imagination in the same way.

Nowhere Is Home could redress the balance because One Day I'm Going To Soar works better in its stage setting than it does on record. If the film's a hit, then I suspect it'll be by word of mouth. Both the songs and the film merit the attention of a very large audience.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Bats reissues


When Robert Scott played bass on The Clean's Getting Older in 1982, I'm certain that he didn't envisage getting older involving 3 album reissues of his then-new band The Bats.

Captured Tracks are re-releasing the first 2 Bats albums, Daddy's Highway and The Law Of Things, plus the compilation Compiletely. These are all great records. Annoyingly, the package features previously unreleased songs. I won't be buying it - once you add postage and customs charges, UK buyers will be staring at the business end of £100.

There will be a few obsessives who will buy it for the extra songs. Oh, there's a tote bag, too. It's ok, Captured Tracks, your marketing department hasn't met me, but I won't be using a tote bag this or any season.

I'm not accusing Captured Tracks of cashing in - even though this package has the whiff of Record Store Day about it - but surely the core audience for this 'product' is a younger, poorer audience who don't already own the records.

I know there's a pretty cheap 3 CD alternative. Do kids buy CDs? I don't. Actually, I did buy one this year by mistake: the Hundredth Anniversary ep was so good I assumed it must be on 7" not CD.

There were 2 really good cassette releases last year of Robert Scott's 1987/88 work, Gordon Wallace and The Professor and the Team. I'd be happier if these were issued on vinyl for the first time, or if other material from Scott's legendary archives was issued. But I'm not going to have a difficult conversation with my bank manager for a handful of previously unreleased demos and mixes bundled with records I already own.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Record Store Day – winners and losers

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. ― Friedrich Nietzsche
There’s been even more grumbling about Record Store Day this year than in previous years. It’s easy to see why if you just look at the hysterical grab for the limited edition releases by heritage acts. But the economics and politics of Record Store Day are more complex than that. Let’s look at the big talking points and find some reason in this madness.

It’s not indie
It’s not meant to be. You’ve got the Independent Label Market for that. You’ll most likely have been in a record shop the week before if you’re that indie. I was the day before RSD. I go to buy things I don’t know I want as much as for what I know I want.

On Friday last week I got a copy of I Never Knew by The Avocados. A box of unplayed copies of this 1981 single turned up. £10, thank you very much – it normally trades second hand for £30. I got a 7” in the post the first day after the bank holiday weekend. You’d struggle to find that record in any shop.

No one goes to a record shop on RSD for something they don’t know about. You know the score.

Ebay mark ups
A lot of RSD stock immediately goes up on ebay. Of course it does. I’m not certain who these “ebay touts” that people talk about are. They might be the unemployed, low-waged or students – people who can’t get a job but have found an easy way to make a quick buck. Fine. I’m not going to queue outside Sister Ray from 3am.

Shops don’t care about touts
They’re not meant to. They’re allowed to sell one copy of each record to any customer and they can’t reserve records. I’ve not heard reports of anything different happening.

Major labels don’t care about touts
Don’t be so na├»ve. You know all those posters for new releases and gigs you see in London? Criminal gangs operate that trade. There’s more than one gang. Each controls its patch. I don’t know how the labels account for that, but maybe it's fruit and flowers.

You know never to argue with ticket touts, right? Good, because some of those touts are part of criminal gangs. You really don’t want to get on the wrong side of them.

Touts don’t care about music
I think some of them do. You remember 8 to 10 years ago when there were so many good indie releases in limited runs coming from the USA? A lot of people bought 2 copies – 1 for themselves and the other to flip on ebay at least twice the price, so they basically got their record for nothing.

You can’t blame the labels for not policing that – it would’ve been impossible. But you can blame their lack of ambition in pressing 500 copies when they could’ve sold 1,000. Yeah, I know about ‘buzz’ and ‘marketing’ but, really, sell more records to fans and forget about the intro to your next press release.

RSD releases were on ebay the day before RSD
I noticed that, too. That won’t be the shop owners, it’ll be the odd member of staff. I used to work in one of those RSD shops (before RSD started). The pay was less than the minimum wage. You’d take the occasional record or two as a perk of the job. The boss knew about this. He’d done the same before he opened his own shop.

You know who also might be selling RSD stock on ebay early? Label staff. Their wages aren’t always that good, I understand. I draw no conclusions on their moral fibre based on the labels they work for.

They’re too expensive
Yep, they are. But the mark up isn’t as extravagant as you might think – the labels are selling them to shops at a high dealer price. Introducing a sale or return policy might make the labels think a bit harder about what they release and their wholesale price.

There are too many RSD releases
Agreed. What started as windfall for record shops is now a cash cow for labels. I shouldn’t begrudge one of my all-time favourite labels, Flying Nun, for this as I know they need the money, but £20 for the Bored Games ep was a bit high. It’s still widely available at RSD shops. As was the £17 Snapper ep last year for a few months after RSD. Oh, £37 for the Dunedin Double? Really?

Plant delays
The Fear Of Men flexi disc (£5) was due out on April 7. It’s still not out because of RSD. The flexi track, Luna, is on the new album, which was itself released on red vinyl for RSD. Or on black vinyl if you, like me, pre-ordered it at the start of February as part of immediately buying the new album by a band you love.

Maybe some of the UK vinyl pressing plants could increase their capacity. I hear there are people looking for work. Or maybe every label shouldn't go to the same plant in the Czech Republic.

It’s Christmas twice a year
A friend in the pub on Sunday suggested RSD is now like the UK car registration system, which sees a massive peak in purchases when the new registration number is introduced. The registration system is since 1999 twice yearly to spread the motor trade’s business more evenly.

RSD means that there are 2 peaks to record shops’ trade. Yes, a record is not just for Christmas, it’s for Record Store Day, too.

I’ll never be able to find or afford the record I really want
Relax, in most cases you’ll get it. The hysteria passes into low-level madness after the first 24 hours; by the end of the week, records will settle at their true value.

I really wanted the Mazzy Star single. I’m confident I’ll get it for its RSD price of £8. Don’t buy (literally) into some buyers’ panic. The last Mazzy Star single, Seasons Of Your Day/Sparrow (two tracks from last year’s album), was released 6 months ago through Rough Trade shops only ("this will sell out on pre-sale"?!). There are just 300 copies of those. There were at least 20 in the racks on Friday in Rough Trade at £3.99. Same price on their website.

Yet some people have paid way over that – up to £25 online, even though it was available for £3.99 on Rough Trade's site. There are 3,000 copies - 10 times more - of this Mazzy Star RSD release. So you can see why I’m not panicking. Neither should you.

UPDATE: I got a copy of the Mazzy Star single exactly one week after RSD, for £7.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Heathers - Fear


You can, sometimes, judge a band by its record covers. Heathers' two 7" sleeves share an aesthetic with The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian that suggests, like those bands, they have an affinity with a certain louche glamour.

The incandescent Fear is brutally beautiful, perhaps closer to that early run of Wedding Present singles than anything. The b-side Life Is Elsewhere slows the pace, adds female backing vocals and builds the guitars into a frenzied squall for even greater punch.

The pay-off line "you're the only girl part of me" is up there with "the radio sucks balls" on Stanley Brinks and The Wave Pictures' Orange Juice as 2014's best.

Heathers start their UK tour tomorrow (Sunday, 20 April). I'll see you down the front. And then when they play an acoustic tribute to Grant McLennan on May 4.

EDIT: I spoke to Michael of the Heathers band tonight at their first UK gig:
M: "Good write up, but that's a man singing."
DNC: "OK, high voice. APOLS."
M: "Also, it's not "girl" it's "good".
DNC: "'You're the only good part of me'? That works, too. I like it either way. Lyrically, you understand. Anyway, did I get anything right?"
M: "The Smiths. And The Wedding Present."

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Lucksmiths - Warmer Corners vinyl issue

The opening line “The start is the hardest part” is a tacit nod that 2005’s Warmer Corners is the real follow up to the orchestrated pop, maudlin melody and straight-up pop hits of 2001’s Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me.



Between those 2 albums, Naturaliste found a harder and darker path. There’s no good reason to expect a band to make the same album twice, but what The Lucksmiths had done with Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me is write better songs, have better production and a bigger scope. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect Naturaliste to build on that.

Warmer Corners is The Lucksmiths returning to their UK influences – The Housemartins, Aztec Camera, The Wedding Present, Belle and Sebastian – and making an album of 10 (soaring, immense, searing, intense) pop songs and 2 ballads.

A musician on Twitter suggested to me that The Lucksmiths got worse when they ‘opened out’ the songwriting. I disagreed. Some of the best songs here aren’t by main songwriter Marty Donald. There’s Tali White’s Sunlight In A Jar which is knocked into shape by new member Louis Richter’s chiming Rickenbacker.

Louis is the Red Adair of the Melbourne indie scene. He drops into band line ups and gives them direction and musical flourish. The Lucksmiths didn’t need that – bassist Mark Monnone is widely regarded as the band’s best musician, not least by Louis – but the pace of Marty’s Putting It Off and Putting It Off is driven and then embellished by that Rickenbacker.

Warmer Corners is an album by a band of stars rather than a star and supporting cast. It’s hard to find fault with it, so I won’t try. It’s record store day tomorrow. The vinyl issue of Warmer Corners isn’t part of it. But it’s a bloody good reason to go to a record shop.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

West Coast Hip Hop is Not for Me


This song is a rite of passage about discovering Hefner at the Reading Festival in 2001. It's sweetly sardonic - "I wanted to hear I Took Her Love For Granted/Not some genre that I hadn't grasped yet" - with a country swing and a hit single's heartbeat.

I saw The Man Who Loves You (well, I booked them, on Darren Hayman's suggestion) at the Hangover Lounge 3 years ago. West Coast Hip Hop was obviously their (or him, as it was then) best song. It's even better now, bigger and fuller and richer, with a full band.

There's an album which proclaims its influences in its titles (Edwyn and Baby, You're A Richman) but the namecheck of Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee in the bluegrass-tinged Walking Song is more telling.

They might lean heavily on their influences at times - they do take their name from a Wilco song - but there's a lot here of their own, not least one of the year's best pop songs, to love.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Jonathan Richman in the 21st century

The new Jonathan Richman compilation No Me Quejo De Mi Estrella takes songs from his last 5 albums, mostly live favourites. Many of the ones my friend asked me if they were new songs at Jonathan's last London gig 2 years ago.

So this compilation is good for Jonathan fans who haven't bought any of his new albums this century. The new songs Jonathan has played in the past few years suggest his next album - and let's hope it comes soon - will be a belter.

The record label says "you could pick sixteen different titles and still come up with an equally solid album". I'm not going to take that as a challenge. But 5 of the 16 songs are from Her Mystery Not Of High Heels and Eye Shadow, the best of those 5 albums and a record that you must hunt down. It's one of his best ever.

Yes, you could pick 16 different songs, but you could buy the 5 albums. They don't disappoint. As a taster, here are some of what I reckon are the more glaring omissions from this compilation:


























Tuesday, 8 April 2014

2541 by Grant Hart with Robert Forster


The answer to 'favourite Grant Hart solo song' comes quickly and easily: 2541. Robert Forster covered it on the I Had A New York Girlfriend album. It's the one Forster album I don't own. I thought it unnecessarily defeatist that Forster made an album of covers as if to associate himself with the greats. He was - and remains - one of the greats.

His next album, Warm Nights, produced by Edwyn Collins, is warm and rich and dramatically intimate. I wonder if its sumptuous grandeur and quiet triumph suggested to Forster that the only way to improve was to reunite with Grant McLennan. Which is what happened.

I hope that Forster makes another solo album, although I was told he's not interested. Maybe when he's completed his book, Grant and I, and it's been published and he's done the promo...maybe then he'll find the time and passions will be rekindled.

The answer to 'favourite Grant Hart Husker Du song' is less simple. By instinct I'd go for Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely. But I can't overlook The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill or Pink Turns To Blue. And it would be remiss to ignore Diane. I'll leave Scott Miller to describe that. If you like music criticism written with a fan's heart and a musician's insight, then you must buy Music: What Happened?




Oh, and this acoustic version of 2541 is quite something, too:

Grant McLennan tribute gig May 4 2014

Some words - wise words, bon mots, reflections, insights - from Grant McLennan:
I know that our dear friend Roddy Frame called his last LP Love, but I maintain that the Go-Betweens write about love better than anybody else in the world.


I don't think they [The Smiths] ever made a whole good album, but they made their fans think they could never happen again…they are not any better than the Go-Betweens or Belle and Sebastian.

We wanted to use Joe Boyd (Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, REM) for Before Hollywood in 1982 when we were on Rough Trade, but at that stage he wasn’t making rock records. We wanted to work with John Cale for Spring Hill Fair but he was too expensive.

As an album [Before Hollywood] that really got close to a definitive sound for a certain period. It’s great because there’s very few records that do that. I’m not comparing the album, but Marquee Moon by Television does that; a statement of a band, of intent, an unmistakable mood. Like Highway 61, early Creedence records, The Doors’ first album, Revolver. They’re albums which come close to defining [something].

Describe to me the typical Go-Betweens fan
Female, heavily into Sylvia Plath, could have played hockey with the Australian Olympic squad but gave it up. And called Mirabelle.

Looking back and seeing that none of it is charted, a lot of people would say that's unsuccessful. But 'Marquee Moon' sold nothing, and I know much I still enjoy listening to Television. It doesn't really matter. To me the things I like, and that a lot of my friends like, are the things that maybe have fallen under the floorboards a bit. Our music was never connected with any kind of movement. There's a guilelessness to our music which I'm happy with.

We all love Wired for Sound by Cliff Richard. It’s just such a happy song.

What's your favourite Robert Forster song?
There are so many! I'll just say at the moment — 'Rock & Roll Friend'. But then I could go back to 'People Say', the second single, which is a fantastic piece of pop music, or 'Karen' — a great individual slice of liberation of R&B. Then I could go through every album...I enjoy all his songs.

Some words from Robert on his favourite Grant song
I really like 'Love Goes On!'. There's nine chords in a row, which he doesn't repeat. It's so him. A lot of his best songs are on '16 Lovers Lane'. And 'Cattle & Cane' is a really good song. It was like 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' or something — a quantum leap, a break-through song.

Last year, David Westlake, Elizabeth Morris of Allo Darlin' and The Mexican Postcards all played Love Goes On! for that very reason. This year, we don't know what songs David Westlake, Heathers and the Very Special Guest will play. Come along and find out. Doors open at 2pm. Music starts at 3pm. Entrance is free.

You'll find out who the Very Special Guest is on the day. A reminder of last year's extraordinary special guest's turn: