Sunday 23 September 2012

Sweater Girls Were Here

Sweater Girls make indiepop like it used to be: fuzzy guitars, crystal clear melodies and a lyrical pre-occupation with youth's intense emotions. This is an album about crushes, kisses and recriminations, and it sounds fantastic.

Their influences might most obviously be The Byrds' sunny 60s jangle, the Ramones' punk simplicity and The Ronnettes' melancholy pop, but these twelve songs are as fresh as new paint. I fancy there's a sly nod to The Springfields' Sunflower on Fred, but Sweater Girls transcend their influences so well that they own their sound.

There are plenty of bands who have tried to make this sort of record in recent years - you know who they are - but didn't have the class to cut it. Sweater Girls Were Here goes to the top of the class and gives indiepop a good name..

Monday 17 September 2012

Boomgates: Double Natural

An Australian band release a couple of singles full of gravelly garage guitars and hooks that won't quit, then up the production values for a cleaner album. If that sounds familiar, then Boomgates have taken the same trajectory as The Twerps - with whom they share a member - but Double Natural is no Twerps part 2.

The re-recorded version of the Layman's Terms single puts Double Natural in focus: this is a record full of singles and potential pop hits. What band wouldn't kill for the artistry to write Cows Come Home, a deceptively simple song infused with power pop restraint and countrified heartache? It would have been the stand-out track on Lightships' album - itself a fine record.

Boomgates remind me of The Go-Betweens in their asethetic rather than their music (although album opener Flood Plains is a cousin to Forster's Here Comes A City). There's raw edginess next to pure pop, not least down to the switch vocals of Brendan Huntley and Steph Hughes. In fact, Hughes has got a great voice and on top of the brutally tender songs it could almost be Tracey Thorn singing with The Go-Betweens on Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express.

There's that aesthetic again. And it spells pure class.

Thursday 13 September 2012

Society - All That We've Become

This one sells itself. It's that good. Dramatic, perfectly poised and trembling with rich mystique. If you want a standard selling point, try 'the new Portishead'. All That We've Become took me back to 1999 when Plutonik - a band of much promise with some modern classics to their name - were meant to do to drum'n'bass what Portishead did to trip hop. That they didn't (in sales terms) shouldn't diminish their quality.

In the same year was Junkie XL's Zerotonine, another of Society's kindred spirits. More? Try Giving Up by Gladys Knight & the Pips for theatrical gloom. Tindersticks noir, for sure. All of those things and more. Society stand up on their own.

Spookily, I see that Plutonik's album, Prime Numbers, is about to be reissued.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Dignan Porch: Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen

What a difference two years makes! Dignan Porch's 2010 debut album, Tendrils, has several diamonds in the rough. It's a record I love. 2012's follow up, Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen, is fuller and richer and even better. Its pop hooks soar, its keyboards swirl and its guitars go straight to the heart. Once upon a time, Super Furry Animals nearly made a record as good as this. I can't give it higher marks.

You could easily say this album is bookended by its best tracks - both Picking Up Dust and You Win You Win are solid gold hits - but everything in between is just as vital. There's new wave energy and garage rock hedonism (sometimes on the same song - check Cancelled TV Shows to find your new favourite song), there's wonky Teardrop Explodes pop (Sixteen Hits) and quirky XTC-style psychedelia (She Is Landing).

There's more besides all that: this is very definitely the work of one of Britain's most captivating (you must see them live), most exciting bands. The next time someone tells you the British indie underground is dead, play them this. If they don't change their mind, then it's the listener who's dead.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Parasol and Troubled Sleep

Do you want a punk rock ballad that sounds as vital by the glare of the sun as it does by the glow of candlelight (clue: you really do)? Then wrap your ears around Parasol's Firecracker, which lasts two minutes and collapses in a cascade of girl group harmonies and giggles.

The other three tracks on Parasol's Crush Season ep are essential, too. They remind me of the tough pop stuff I was listening to 20 years ago - the first records by Magnapop, Jale, Zuzu's Petals and Arcwelder. On the strength of Crush Season, people will be remembering Parasol fondly in 20 years' time, too.

Troubled Sleep "currently reside, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, in brooklyn". Similar to their agitated neighbours like Heaven's Gate, they know their MBV records inside out, as well as the Swirlies and Lorelei. The Wacky Past Is Now ep shows them attacking their influences with enough panache and elan to make a sound all their own. I'd put money on them having tattoos underneath their cardigans.

Both these records are on Puzzle Pieces, what is (slowly) becoming one of my favourite boutique labels. There were two superb 4-track 7" EPs last year from Bad Banana and Four Eyes; now these fine efforts from Parasol and Troubled Sleep.

All Puzzle Pieces records are cheap and packaged lovingly. They give away downloads of the EPs - some might think this is a crazy business model, but Puzzle Pieces know that good pop records sell. As they rightly say, at only $9.50 for both EPs: "What a steal! Saves on shipping too."