Wednesday, 30 December 2020

2020: 20 songs by 20 new acts

What a year! Generally, sure, but for music 2020’s been quite a vintage. What have we learned? Well, San Francisco is setting the scene, but ignore Gothenburg, France, Australia and all points in between at your peril.

A list without Star Feminine Band, deathcrash and Sally Anne Morgan is evidence that this overview doesn’t have all the hits, but suggests that there’s so many new sounds on offer to widen our musical imaginations.

Very few 7” singles this year - the vinyl revival for new releases is about limited albums on heavy splattered vinyl. Luckily, my OnlyFans account is quite lucrative but for those without money-spinning sidelines, bandcamp remains the place to go.

No predictions for 2021, although maybe Slumberland will open their chequebook, sign every Bay Area band and become a billion dollar media conglomerate. Even more excitingly, periods of economic stagnation and social inertia ignite the most combustible music scenes. So until rebellious adolescents react defiantly, this is what some of 2020 sounded like.

Friday, 11 December 2020

Typical Girls

In which Gothenburg trolls San Francisco by taking a shot at the 2020 pop board and scoring a bullseye.

If 2019's most exciting new music was coming from Gothenburg - avant-garde electronic ambience, freak-folk, hijacking Felt's guitars that sound like pins popping in your head - then 2020 has been ruled by San Francisco's jangle, DIY pop and sunny psych.

So members of various Gothenburg bands have formed Typical Girls and released an ep that sounds like it could have been recorded and released in San Francisco. This is just so much fun. They even cover The Troggs' With A Girl Like You and make it sound a bit like Massachusetts by The Bee Gees.

Final score: Gothenburg 10, San Francisco 10. So long as both cities keep producing records this good, there'll be no favourites, just time for celebration.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Lunchbox - After School Special

This is just pop music. Sure, the time might be right for protest songs, for bands to confront social problems rather than personal issues. But one of pop music's main functions is as distraction from the everyday, as reminders of a better world, of hope and of personal celebration. Lunchbox make pop songs - really good pop songs - and they're a very welcome distraction.

After School Special is a record where it never rains in southern California. It's an immediate sugar rush like The Archies. It's got dancefloor snap like The Go! Team. It's full of punchy horns and jangly guitars like The Housemartins.

Lunchbox break absolutely no new ground here. That's the whole point. There's no great profundity - it's just pop music with all the attendant colour, glamour and magic. It's enormous fun. And sometimes that's what we need.

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

deathcrash ‎– People thought my windows were stars

deathcrash's eternal songs sound like they've been buried for thousands of years and uncovered in an ancient rite, like wholly intact extinct animals revealed in Siberia's melting permafrost, and given an afterlife on vinyl.

Where last year's Slumber single was granted its powers by Arab Strap's Girls Of Summer, this latest record was brought to life by studying Slint's Spiderland. One side of the 12" ep is songs for m, i-iv (deathcrash aren't big on capital letters), a post-rock suite in four parts, each roughly lasting a light year, taking as long as it does for new galaxies to emerge.

Black Country, New Road are - rightly - getting a lot of attention, but they're going to have to share the post-rock limelight with deathcrash who are quietly excellent. And don't have a saxophone player or threaten free-jazz improv.

Friday, 16 October 2020

Wicketkeeper - Shonk

Archers of Loaf were peddling a single on Record Store Day this year. Good stuff, but £15 for one new original song was too rich for my blood. Your entertainment pound gets much more value for money from Wicketkeeper’s album, Shonk, which trades in similarly gritty and tense noise.

Perhaps most obviously,Wicketkeeper’s kindred spirits are Built To Spill. That early 90s underground sound that wasn’t grunge, but knew where it was coming from, like Edsel Auctioneer and first album Teenage Fanclub in the UK. Spin’s screaming guitars are a definite nod to Dinosaur Jr, and the guitar avalanche and sledgehammer bass of The Side come, brilliantly, from Husker Du’s copybook.

Sure, Shonk isn’t overly adventurous, but their controlled chaos is dynamic, consistently forceful and rhythmically interesting enough to file under ‘excellent’ and ‘catch this band live as soon as the pandemic madness ends’.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

The Umbrellas - Maritime

It was always pretty easy to give C86 an identity in the 21st century because it had never had one before. C86 was the name of a compilation tape, a snapshot of a country’s underground guitar scene one season, not a shared sonic ideal. As one of the tape’s contributors, David Westlake, said, it was “a scene centred on a number of disparate bands”.

A few of those disparate bands, particularly Jim Beattie’s Primal Scream and the Razorcuts, sounded like they only bought records made by American bands from 1966 to 1968. Which is where The Umbrellas come in.

So if C86 means superior jangle, Roger McGuinn guitars and actually now you mention it pretty high production standards, then that’s what The Umbrellas are. They’re from San Francisco, a city currently punching above its weight with a ton of great bands - sort of similar, but disparate.

Perhaps historians will give 2020’s San Francisco scene a name. More likely, contemporary popkids will delight in The Umbrellas’ simultaneous discharge of jangle and harmony. And when they release an album on Slumberland next year, maybe people will draw a comparison to when Creation heard Razorcuts’ I Heard You The First Time ep on Flying Nun and signed them to record an album.

Thursday, 13 August 2020


Galore play raggedy guitars to the best of their ability, panache over perfection, all raw minimalism like Beat Happening and stumbling like early Pastels with Veronica Falls romantic drama. Most obviously - most wonderfully - they sound like Rose Melberg on K, by which I mean Tiger Trap if they'd doubled the recording budget to $10 to include a producer.

It feels like there's something really special going on in San Francisco. The Umbrellas, Tony Molina, The Reds, Pinks and Purples, the Paisley Shirt roster. So Melbourne's finally got a rival. Maybe Galore know the score, which is why they got Mikey Young in to master the album.