Saturday 24 March 2012

The High Water Marks - Pretending to be Loud

The High Water Marks start their third album just like their first two - with a killer riff and giant hook. It gets better, too: It's Gonna Be A Good Year is equal parts anthemic and seductive; Satellite sets its sights on Beulah's mighty The Coast Is Never Clear; and the title track sneaks in some strings for even more atmos. This non-stop pop explosion marks three albums in 8 years for The High Water Marks. It would be greedy to ask for more. When they make a record, they press all the right buttons. Maybe they write some crap in between releases then throw it away. What you've got in Pretending to be Loud is all the good stuff.

They're not re-inventing the wheel here, but they've made an album of a-sides. This is a record that stacks of bands try to make but fail. If you like Standard Fare's leftfield-rock-meets-Fleetwood Mac, Big Troubles' college radio classics and Summer Cats' hook-heavy sunshine pop - three bands who, like The High Water Marks, get it right - then you'll love Pretending to be Loud.

It's free to download. If someone releases this on vinyl, I'm first in the queue at the record shop.

Saturday 10 March 2012

The Puddle: Secret Holiday/Victory Blues

It's about time The Puddle, who've paid their dues - originally on Flying Nun - with a succession of increasingly impressive albums had a gold disc to hang in their hallway. Now on New Zealand's Fishrider, who recently issued the Opposite Sex debut which has become a 6Music favourite, their time could (and really it should) be here.

Secret Holiday/Victory Blues is a great album. The only hitch in the process was the press release. The band's Ian Henderson told me: "George & I would like to be more Davies than Gallaghers. We fight over matters of principle and image, not who writes the best shite anthems. We only ever fight over totally unimportant stuff like covers and press releases." This is where yours truly stepped in and wrote the press release. The general thrust of it is:

1. The Puddle are amazing

2. Their odd pop is slightly more commercial this time around

3. You should buy it.

You just want to listen to the record? Sure:

“One teacher said he didn’t know if I’d grow up to be a genius or a madman. For a long time I thought I’d have to choose.” George D Henderson

The Puddle’s seventh album, Secret Holiday/Victory Blues, is the sum of two proposed 5-track 10” EPs recorded a year apart and pulled together as a complete unit.

This collection is Henderson’s response to 30 years of under-appreciation for their urgent psychedelia, sweet pop sentiments and garage rock undertones. A deliberately more commercial offering than previous albums, Secret Holiday/Victory Blues burns with a quiet fury.

Pitched somewhere between Julian Cope’s fried krautrock and pop, The Clean’s wayward tunes and Orange Juice’s oblique vision of a new pop future, this album features Graeme Humphreys (Able Tasmans, Humphreys & Keen) on keyboards and multi-instrumentalist Alan Starrett (Pop Art Toasters, The Bats, Mink etc.)

No could ever accuse The Puddle of making the same album twice. With Secret Holiday/Victory Blues, they’ve made two different EPs and then released them as one coherent album. What was that John Peel said about The Fall? “They are always different, they are always the same.” Read The Puddle for that ideal, too.

If there’s a constant in The Puddle’s unique, expansive outlook, it’s Henderson’s idea that “there were a few bands like Microdisney or The Smiths or Orange Juice ... I thought, `why aren't people doing this? It's great'. So I had to do it. No-one else was going to."

No one else is doing what The Puddle do: the mixture of T-Rex stomp and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd on Oh Hayley (You’re Right), for instance. Or the sadness of The Go-Betweens’ Before Hollywood and the fire of Television’s Adventure on Secret Holiday.

Whether or not Henderson’s glorious attempt at reaching for the skies and grabbing stars will give them a well-deserved 2012 hit is one thing; these songs will last. People will come round eventually.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Damien Jurado - Maraqopa

With the release of Damien Jurado's fifth album, Where Shall You Take Me?, in 2003 I felt that he'd gone as far as he could so I stopped buying his records after that. If Jurado had signed off as his major influence Phil Ochs had done in 1970 with a grandly desolate statement like No More Songs, then I'd have packaged his discography as 'criminally overlooked but perfectly weighted'.

Just as well Jurado carried on, as his twelfth album, Maraqopa, is at least as strong as what I had down as his best, Rehearsals For Departure. There's greater variety on this record than I'm used to from Jurado. From the baroque pop of Life Away From The Garden to the desert country of the title track to the country and psychedelia-flecked So On, Nevada, this is a a record rich in softly-spoken classicism, quiet power and enough enigma to pull you in for repeated plays.

If between 2004 and 2011 Jurado made an album that I should have paid attention to, please let me know. Because if it's anywhere near as good as Maraqopa, then it's a must-buy.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Colleen Green - Milo Goes To Compton

If it always rained in California then Best Coast might forget about loving her mum and cat and sound like Colleen Green. Milo Goes To Compton - that's a reference to The Descendents' melodic blitzkreig right there - is DIY punk from The Ramones-inspired I Wanna Be Degraded to the cheap electronic pop of Nice Boy (I Want A).

I heard this album a year ago but left it because it was only on cassette. It's just been released on green (yeah, I know) vinyl so I blew the cobwebs off my credit card. If you say it's a little unfinished in places, then I'll say it's gloriously haphazard. If it fails at times, it doesn't care and quickly moves on without looking back.

Some might reckon that means tape was the right medium for Milo Goes To Compton. I say thousands of great pop songs fall about, fly too close to the sun and do things wrong just right on vinyl. Perfect pop is human and has its flaws. This record is just that.