Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Sneetches - Form Of Play: A Retrospective

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Shit Girlfriend or shit Record Store Day

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Stroppies

Whoever's writing Melbourne's rock family tree has got another branch to work on. The Stroppies are Steph Hughes (Boomgates, Dick Diver), Gus Lord (The Twerps, Boomgates, The Stevens) and some names I don't recognise but are surely already in several bands I must hear.

The Stroppies aren't really about Boomgates' crashing garage rock or Dick Diver's suburban love songs, even if a few of their songs could fit into either of those bands' back catalogues. They're more about reaching out and searching for Raincoats' sratchy suss and Young Marble Giants' sense of space.

There's a tape with 7 songs. Start here:

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Girls in the Garage

The Girls in the Garage compilations make a fun series showcasing the flames that the Brit Invasion spark lit on the USA's young women. It widened its search to unearth gems from Europe (you must hear The Plommons from Sweden Beatles tribute Last Train To Liverpool), Singapore (you do want a version of Yummy Yummy Yummy sung in Chinese) and Australia (you really want Little Pattie's He's My Blonde Headed, Stompie Wompie Surfer Boy).

Some of the albums' liner notes haven't aged that well ("a trip down Mammary Lane", anyone?) but the compilers' enthusiasm and research can't be questioned.

Two of the last compilations were reissued for Record Store Day. I can't really fault the records, but I don't see the market for them. They were offered at £20 each, which is about the maximum you'd pay second hand.

Yes, I know some nutjob paid £91 for Volume 9 Oriental Special, but if I based my financial planning on what someone did once on ebay I'd be in the poorhouse.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll stumble across some of the compilations in the used racks or even unsold stock sitting there in the new releases. There's some novelty, some beat group classics, some surprises (yes, that is Cher in 1964 singing Ringo, I Love You) and a lot of the sound you've heard being made in recent years by the underground distaff scene. This is where it started.



Friday, 14 April 2017

Peter Perrett returns

The last time Peter Perrett released an album, 1996's Woke Up Sticky, it was at the top of the year's best releases.

The 3 albums he made with The Only Ones from 1978 to 1980 set the template without which the Manic Street Preachers would have been a pub rock band, The Libertines a Kinks covers band and The House Of Love stuck at home listening to Bob Dylan outtakes.

Perrett releases a new album, How The West Was Won, on June 30. The title track owes something to the Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane, but that didn't stop me ordering the album. You just know that many of these new songs will be freshly minted classics.

There's no word on a tour. Did you see The Only Ones live 10 years ago? Brilliant stuff. Perrett, though, is unpredictable. He had to be smuggled out of America, seven dates into a 20-date support tour with The Who, after deliberately running over a six-foot Chinese car park attendant who had been hassling him.

If there won't be any Perrett gigs, then perhaps his new label Domino could form a tribute band. A young Johnny Marr got kicked out of The Only Ones’ dressing room more than once. Robert Forster sang The Only Ones’ The Whole Of The Law at his 2010 “15 songs about London” gig, mimicking Peter Perrett’s louche drawl perfectly. He then offered his services as a singer if anyone was going to start an Only Ones tribute band.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Rocketship - Outer Otherness

It’s fair to ask why Rocketship haven’t released a pop classic as insistent and instant as I Love You Like The Way That I Used To Do, I'm Lost Without You Here or Hey, Hey Girl in the last 20 years. It's fair to answer that no one else has either.

Outer Otherness finds Rocketship in krautrock territory using what sounds like a 1980s drum machine sparring with a hypnotic, mournful keyboard tune last seen on a beach in Ibiza when everyone was coming down and marvelling at the mysteries and wonders their altered minds had conjured.

Even if *that* doesn’t quite get you unfurling your TUNE! banner it will get you holding up a scorecard declaring “NINE OUT OF TEN AT LEAST” before sticking it on repeat.

This is a split 7” single with Pia Fraus (from Estonia, geography fans) who trade in a superior line of blissed out shoegaze, all airy melodies like Wild Nothing and celestial psychedelia like Melody’s Echo Chamber. They’ve been releasing records since 2001, so I’ve got some catching up to do because this is a very good sound.




Friday, 24 March 2017

The Lucksmiths - how to tour on a budget

The Lucksmiths did their first European tour supporting Belle and Sebastian in 1998. They wrote to them asking to play, then flew from Melbourne to Amsterdam just in case they got the gig. They did.

They then toured the UK on their own, signing ('signing') to Fortuna POP! the following year. The Lucksmiths became experts at touring on the cheap. This involved scavenging bagels from dumpsters, getting a brewery to sponsor them and asking audience members if they could sleep on their floor after the gig.

"We'll have to go on forever, as we can't do anything else. We might have to be like ESG and get our children to be The Lucksmiths 20 years down the track."

This was 2002. The Lucksmiths are now all parents. The family band prediction is on.


Sodastream interview

Sodastream explain how they turned down a Blanco y Negro record deal for Tugboat so they could be on same label as Low.

This interview was published in TNT magazine in 2003 when they'd signed ('signed') with Fortuna POP! and released A Minor Revival.

I spoke to Pete Cohen last night. The excess baggage for the double bass was only $500 this time. There may be a kickstarter or a bucket handed round at tonight's gig.




"I grew my hair and discovered Smoke On The Water"

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Wurld Series - Air Goofy

Things I suspect Wurld Series have:
  • a collection of obscure psychedelic albums
  • some old effects pedals held together by packing tape
  • Mr Big The Medicine Man’s phone number
Thing I know they have:
  • a confrontational tape of tuneful noise
That tape is Air Goofy on the consistently excellent Melted Ice Cream label. It’s dispatched in a shrugging ‘take it or leave it way’. I’m taking it. It’s really quite brilliant. I bet they know that. How could they not?

I know - believe me, I know - a lot of bands are compared to Guided By Voices, but with Wurld Series it’s right on the button. They take Robert Pollard’s  “four Ps”, pop, punk, psych, and prog, and make hook-laden songs that have more ideas in them than some bands manage in a whole album.

And some of these songs are under a minute long. Oh, in case you’re worried about the prog thing, the longest song bows out in under 3 minutes.

Wurld Series even manage acid folk on Regional Perspectives and temper The Fall’s raging lunacy on AH’s 56th Dream. I’m still finding things in these songs. They’ll last.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

I Love Your Lifestyle - Fire

Punk's fire and fury with pop's instant bite and hardcore's melodic mayhem. It's a win-win-win situation. They boast guitar proficiency even if this is DIY, like The Only Ones did in punk's amateur hour, and it sounds great.

I can see them fitting in with British acts like Shit Present or Playlounge, all shredding guitars and chaotic tunes.

I Love Your Lifestyle (it's either an emo band name or sardonic, either way I'll pass on the t-shirt option) have a great way with song titles and waspish lyrics. Try their debut ep I Was a Loser in School or Nice Jacket. Not. and No Time For Major Fuck Ups from last year's album.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Dag - Benefits of Solitude

Another year, another great album from the Australian underground. Benefits of Solitude is a country record - despondency and alienation in equal measures - and an indie album looking to Microdisney's terminal doom and the wan light of early Smiths singles.

It's in the current Australian tradition of The Twerps - see also Lower Plenty, Ciggie Witch, Grandstands - and their kindred spirits Real Estate. Benefits of Solitude was in the same record bag this week as the new Real Estate album - even if the latter's In Mind is a welcome return to their best form, I know which one I prefer.

There are so many great songs on this album. Like a boxer I'm not knocked out but dizzy from the blows. I can't yet pick a favourite. Some of these songs will stay with me for years. Try this one for starters:



Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Foxy Morons

The sound of the suburbs intensified. The frustrated teenage dreams of living in a commuter town amplified by living in Tasmania, an island 150 miles away from the Australian mainland.



This is spare music, simple and brittle like the Marine Girls with a wayward punk spikiness like The Slits and broken-down strumming like The Cannanes. Each song only uses about 3 chords because that’s all they need to. It works.

Under The Sea might have a little too much in common with Girl Ray's Trouble - quite possibly coincidentally, so I won't hold that against them. These are early days and it sounds good whatever way you hold it up.

Home suggests where they might go next. It takes the Modern Lovers-style two-note twin engine guitar and keyboard drone of Mainland and turns out a woozy keyboard recalling Quasi’s Featuring “Birds”.

But Mainland tells us one of this 5-piece band has already gone. So this might be the last we hear from Foxy Morons (I know, the band name isn’t the greatest joke in rock history, but that seems to be a thing with Australian bands).

There's quite a Tasmanian scene at the moment. Unless Unity Floors’ Moving To Melbourne becomes the new Australian underground's anthem, it's a window to watch.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

How to win Fortuna POP! gig tickets

Rough Trade are offering a pair of tickets to the Fortuna POP! farewell gig to the person who (best, I presume) answers the question "Who's the best Fortuna POP! band & why?"

Let me help you here. I have form. Some years ago, Rough Trade were offering a bag to the person who best explained what records mean the most to them. Sean was desperate for the bag. Times were tough before the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart royalties came in.

Among my suggestions were "I'm on My Way" by Dean Parrish, because it was the traditional closing song at the Wigan Casino. And Fortuna POP!'s tagline is "more soul than the Wigan Casino". Which is a line from Bob's Brian Wilson's Bed. So I suggested that as well.

Sean won the bag. Did he thank me? Did he fuck.

Anyway, out of the same altruistic (mine, not Sean's) spirit, I've separated the FPOP! discography into bands who might help you win, and those who won't.

Oh, before you write your competition entry, remember that Sean's a sensitive boy. He blushes easily:
As the bass player in Airport Girl I find it difficult to be overly ethusive about our records in these mailouts. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am virtually ego-less, possessing a sense of modesty similar to that of Mahatma Gandhi.
Bands you should write about for the competition
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Allo Darlin'
Mark 700
The Butterflies Of Love
The Lucksmiths
Sodastream
The Mountain Movers
Let's Wrestle
Withered Hand
Mammoth Penguins

Retirement homes
(bands Sean gave the kiss of life to, sorry that image pains me too)
Comet Gain
Tender Trap
The Primitives

Band too early for the Luscious Jackson revival
Cannonball Jane (or how that Le Tigre comeback could have sounded better)

One-offs
(file under whatever happened to)
Taking Pictures
Mogul
Discordia (there were releases on other labels, should've have been bigger than DJ Shadow)
Mick Travis (they couldn't have been bigger than Tompaulin, but it was worth a try)
John Sims
Cinema Red and Blue
Karl Smith

Bands named after songs 
(It worked for Biff Bang Pow! but this isn't Creation)
September Girls
Cocoanut Groove

Also worked for Creation but not Fortuna POP!
Airport Girl - the label's Oasis. Two brothers...actually, it was really Rob Price who let Sean play the same bassline for every song at gigs; in the studio, Rob played the actual basslines.

Not really Fortuna POP! bands, they were on other labels (at least that's how I think of them don't @ me)
The Aislers Set (nothing not to love)
Spraydog (it seemed like every label had to release a record by them in the late 90s - they were good, but it was a long time ago)
Bearsuit
Chain And The Gang
Crystal Stilts (that first album still sounds phenomenal)
Peter Astor
Would-Be-Goods
Club 8
The Pipettes
The Wave Pictures
Tullycraft
Milky Wimpshake
The Proper Ornaments
The Ballet

Bidding war losses
(before Fortuna POP! upped their promotional and recording budgets, some bands fucked off after making brilliant debuts)
Fanfarlo
My Sad Captains

Bands stolen from other labels
(after Fortuna POP! had a promotional and recording budget)
Shrag
Tigercats

Bands inherited from Track & Field
Homescience
The Loves
Herman Dune
Darren Hayman
The Ladybug Transistor
Steven James Adams (sort of)

Bands I can't remember very well
Finlay
Twinkie

Band with a drug dealer on speed dial* so all touring bands' favourite support act
The Chemistry Experiment (*allegedly - don't sue me, I know some of you are responsible parents with respectable jobs)

Darren Hayman bands
Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern
Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee
Darren Hayman And Emma Kupa
Darren Hayman And The Long Parliament
Darren Hayman

The DIY years
(actually, any of these might win, they're current and fahionable and very good)
Martha
Chorusgirl
Joanna Gruesome
The Spook School
Evans The Death
Flowers (alright, Bernard Butler produced them, but they're noisy and I've run out of categories)






Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Download cards with vinyl are wanted

Some record labels are grumbling about including download cards with vinyl pressings. Given the low redemption rates - between 5 and and 25% and dropping all the time, according to a survey of labels by Vinyl Me Please - it's easy to see the labels' frustration at the additional cost.

The alternatives, though, are either prohibitively expensive or inconvenient. I'm not prepared to pay Spotify £120 a year to stream music I already own. If they have it, of course.

YouTube is free to use, but you can't access any other apps if you're listening to it. Yes, I know it's a visual medium, but I don't need to stare at an album cover for 40 minutes.

Record labels have a different idea about the value of downloads than the record buyer. They want our email addresses so they can spam us with their newsletters. No thanks.

If you're demanding a download is sent to an email address, many people use an old hotmail address that they never otherwise check. If as happened last week, you demand a name and email address but I get the download directly, you'll get something like this:


Direct email marketing doesn't work. Labels know how effective download cards are. Before bitching quite so much about download cards, perhaps they can share the efficacy of their email marketing.

There are many better ways to reach fans - if I like a band or label, I follow them on Twitter. I don't need an email as well.

Some labels know this, of course. Which is why they let you download the album via one of your social media accounts. So they can use your account to harvest more contacts for their spam. Mate, I only want the Loyle Carner album download, which I've paid for, you don't get anything in return:


We know that technology drives music consumption. So when people had an ipod they had thousands of MP3s. Someone left a comment on my blog a few years ago claiming authority on music because he had over 100,000 MP3s. He reminded me of the young man I met at a party who had 11 Jonathan Richman albums. Great, I thought, we've got plenty of common ground to chat. But he'd never played even one of them.

The people who want downloads now are music fans. Storing them on a separate hard drive (or several hard drives) is fiddly and expensive, but still cheaper than a year's Spotify membership.

Unlike that student who had thousands of MP3s he's never listened to, I have a job. This means most of my music listening is done either commuting or at work. So I find the download card very important.

Of the 3 albums I bought last week, I've played the one without a download card the least. If I really loved that album I'd have digitised it so I could play it more. Which reminds me, sometimes the album really isn't very good, which is the only time I don't use the download card.

It's worth labels using quality as a metric - did the unsuccessful albums have a lower download rate? If so, they might just not be very good. The buyers have spoken.

What's never mentioned is that a lot of CDs come with download cards. This isn't so weird when you remember that a lot of people use laptops without CD drives. The CD is about the same price as the download, so they may as well have a CD for back up purposes, and because they want a physical object.

I don't know what the answer to this problem is. I know for sure that if labels stop making download cards then the saving won't be passed on to the buyer.

I do know that a centralised streaming service like Spotify isn't the answer for me. Free access to the album on a streaming service for vinyl buyers might work.

Free download at point of purchase from the label, which Numero Group do, doesn't work unless you live in the same country. You know about overseas postage rates, right?

And the answer is definitely not 'fill in this postcard with all of your details then pay for a stamp and post it to us' which Rough Trade tried in 2006:


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Whooperups

This is generic without being derivative. That's some trick to pull. The Whooperups - misleadingly named after a Victorian term meaning "inferior, noisy singers" - do simple fuzz, close harmonies and instantly accessible pop. 

Yes, other bands do that, or try to do that, but they don't do them with gently fizzing guitars quite like this. These are exhilarating songs.

Sure, the band numbers moonlighting members of The Spook School, Charla Fantasma and Wolf Girl, but they don't sound like those bands. They sound different. What? You really want comparisons? Okay, try Mercury Girls and Veronica Falls in a sort of 'if you like them you'll love this' way.

The past - the scent of an old perfume, the pains of being 17 - is as alive in these songs as the present. Which makes The Whooperups' future look very good.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Bill Botting and the Two Drink Minimums - Better Friends

In which Allo Darlin's Bill Botting swaps his (metaphorical) stripy t-shirt for a (very real) trucker cap and plaid shirt. Better Friends is a country rock album that's written to be played on the radio and listened to in the car with the windows wound down.

These songs - they're all hits - have the southern rock punch of Tom Petty, the careworn intimacy of Neil Young's ballads and the maudlin melodies of The Go-Betweens' Tallulah.

Bill's assembled a crack band (including Darren Hayman and members of The Wave Pictures and Tigercats) and these titular better friends make the album so much fun.

They're clearly having a brilliant time, not least on Treating You Right's backing vocal pay-off line "he's an asshole, yes he's an asshole", and lifting Hanson's MmmBop and running it through a lap steel on Know You When.

The one misstep on this album is a cover of Paul Simon's Graceland. Not because it's too close to the original (although it is, even if Bill changes the lyric about his travelling companion's age to match his child's age) but because it's too close to what Bill did with Allo Darlin.

What this album does is give Bill Botting a new path after Allo Darlin's success. Anyone who saw Allo Darlin will know well how much Bill enjoys being on stage. Better Friends suggests different ways that Bill can enjoy making music while entertaining us richly. What's that line from Bye Bye Pride? The door is always open wide.



Sunday, 29 January 2017

Heart Beach - Kiss Your Face

I think we're all agreed that Heart Beach's Counting was one of 2016's best singles (by "we" I mean "me, myself and I" and by "best" I mean I played it more than most other singles and I'm still not tired of it).

There are only a few songs as good as Counting on the Kiss Your Face album, but then that makes them modern classics. The whole album is great, though.

Like the Mary Chain they take simple pop tunes and record them with the lights off and sunglasses on (listen to Record). Like Southern Comfort they do nagging, ragged bliss (listen to Sleeping). And like Dum Dum Girls they do basic feedback and instant hits (listen to Brittle).

Friday, 20 January 2017

Francoise Hardy interview, 1996

"I've got a very limited voice, which can be effective on some songs. I like the contrast between big music and a little voice. I really like the Jesus and Mary Chain."


Published 21 June 1996. I know it's a bit crumpled. It's been stuck between some Francoise Hardy records for over 20 years.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Buzzcocks show time's up for box sets

Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch ep is being reissued. Great. Every home should have one. So is Time's Up, the semi-official bootleg album. Only completists really need that. It's not very good.

If you want both, that'll be £23. Fair enough. If you want both in a box, that'll be £50. I know. Although you do get some badges and photos and posters with that.

Remember NME's 2007 redesign which featured a "Weekly Planner catering for younger readers"? That was the magazine's death knell, a sign it had moved so far from its roots and mission, that its closure was inevitable. This box set stinks of the same desperation for the box set market.

The £50 price tag is telling. This sounds like a record company trying to bring back the 50 quid bloke, a term coined by journalist and magazine publisher David Hepworth in 2003:

"This is the guy we've all seen in Borders or HMV on a Friday afternoon, possibly after a drink or two, tie slightly undone, buying two CDs, a DVD and maybe a book - fifty quid's worth - and frantically computing how he's going to convince his partner that this is a really, really worthwhile investment."

50 quid bloke died, possibly with Borders and HMV, replaced either by Vinyl Revival Man (repurchasing those cheap CDs from HMV with £20 180g virgin vinyl reissues) or by 79p download man.

Whoever buys this box set will have a hard time justifying it to anyone if they have to. It doesn't offer anything like value for money.

The marketing team have subtitled this 'Mk 1 Box Set'. Let's imagine what will be in Mk 2 Box Set. All 3 studio albums? What about Mk 3 Box Set? All the singles? Well, if that's the case then Box Sets Mk 2 and 3 would be a reissue of the 5x LP 1989 Product box set. 

Then you could rightly say "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"



Friday, 13 January 2017

Field Route - Dreaming

Field Route make extreme music. Extremely small, beautiful and poetic music. This kind of extreme indiepop seems to rile people no end, even though it takes an adventurous and thoughtful path as any blissed out rock or pscyh band.

If you want to annoy people, play this record out. Play it in a set with The Wake's O Pamela, The Field Mice's Emma's House and St Christopher's Crystal Clear. It's in that lineage. In the same way it's got the quietly rousing grandeur of The Walker Brothers, which riles no one. That's cultural perception for you.

I can imagine them releasing a stripped-back acoustic ep of New Order covers. Based on this excellent start (well, this is two of Horse Beach moonlighting, so they've got previous), whatever they do next will be worth catching.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Bearcats - Break Up Stories

On New Friends Bearcats switch on the distortion pedal and give their guitars what I believe is technically called Hell all the while keeping the new wave beat - chugging bass and handclaps - going.

Turn Me Around sees them pitch their stall midway between Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts - dramatically static, atmospheric and romantically fragile. Someone somewhere may already be carving the lyrics on their arm.

They go down that road marked '1982' or 'The Cure' or 'Blank Dogs' for Mickey and Mallory, the last track on this tape. I didn't go for that sound the last time it was revived and I'm still not biting. Still, 2 out of 3 of these songs are magic.