Sunday 31 March 2013

Edwyn Collins: Understated

Home Again was the tender album made recovering from illness; Losing Sleep was the album made with famous fans and friends as if Edwyn had died; Understated is the album made by a revitalised musician at the top of his game. "That's why I'm living my own youth/That's why I'm living my own truth/And I feel alive/And I feel reborn," Edwyn explains on Forsooth.

Home Again's Written In Stone etched out Edwyn's frustration and confusion:
Directions that confound me
I can't find my way home
But I will get there
On my own

Understated is the sound of Edwyn finding his way home. His determination and grit is realised in footstomping soul and punchy anthems. The album was recorded with his long-term live backing band, which gives Understated a purposeful unity and cohesion.

I didn't buy Losing Sleep - the album made with fans including Johnny Marr, Franz Ferdinand and The Cribs - because there was a touch of the tribute album to it. Bleak and spare as Home Again was, Losing Sleep was far more morbid, despite the contributors' good intentions.

Understated, though, is urgent and powerful and stirring. It's easily his best album since Gorgeous George. And as he predicted on Home Again, he got there on his own.

Thursday 21 March 2013


Follakzoid II - or Neu! That's What I Call Chilean Krautrock - came to me suddenly and unexpectedly as if a snake had whispered its secrets in my ear.

There are five songs, each with one note and a hundred ideas. The songs last for at least 9 years - from Can's first lp to Talking Heads 77 - and end when their tribal drums, hypnotic tunes and thumping rhythms come to a natural end.

There's something of Psycho Killer to Rio; everything else comes from Follakzoid's own dark magic. Here, listen:

Wednesday 20 March 2013

The sound of young Dunedin

If Flying Nun and Arch Hill weren't fixated on Auckland then they'd know the new New Zealand scene is really happening in Dunedin.

Trick Mammoth
They capture rattling garage pop with the sadness of soft rock. I can hear the melancholy of The Carpenters (seriously!) and the lugubrious outtakes of Alex Chilton's Lost Decade. There's that same distinctive unease you get from English psychedelia - XTC, for instance - and an Americana-flavoured backwoods songwriting (Elliot Smith, say) dressed up in a full-band treatment. Give them $50 more of studio time and they'll make a record that sounds a million dollars. Which is what Fishrider in Dunedin are doing.

The Prophet Hens
There are three things you need to know:
Trivia: they number Darren Stedman of The Verlaines on drums.
Fact: There's an album later this year on Fishrider.
Music: There's one song, All Over The World, that picks up where The Chills' Heavenly Pop Hit left off and finds new heights.

It's customary to say that new NZ bands this good sound like The Bats or The Clean. Males don't, but they do occupy the same category filed "classic guitar pop" having the fire, fury and tunes of REM's Chronic Town. So High, their single coming out on Manic Pop! in the US (NZ A&R departments - hang your heads in shame!) sounds like the best Delgados song you never heard.

There is, of course, a Bats connection. Males songwriter Richard Ley-Hamilton plays with Robert Scott and The Puddle's Ian Henderson in a new band, Kilmog.

By the way, Males bassist Sam Valentine plays drums in Trick Mammoth - there's a real scene in Dunedin. Time to take notice.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Jeff Mellin - Smile Like A Lemon Peel Kiss Like A Papercut

When The Cars’ Ric Ocasek produced Guided By Voices, I hoped it would sound something like Jeff Mellin’s Smile Like A Lemon Peel Kiss Like A Papercut does today: power pop beat and bounce, controlled messiness and maybe – and it was a lot to ask – Gary Valentine’s post-Blondie new wave classics. Come on, who wouldn’t want a song that matches up to The First One?

Jeff Mellin: Smile Like A Lemon Peel, Kiss Like A Paper Cut from Soamel Pictures on Vimeo.

On the other side, Don’t Go Crazy Before I Do, a duet featuring Jenny Dee, is the song Evan Dando forgot to write with Juliana Hatfield. It’s easy to imagine Jerry Harrison played the organ on this.

Neat, huh? Grab a copy of this 7" while you can.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Standard Fare and the inevitability of love

It’s inevitable: bands you love always break up or make a bad record. Otherwise it wouldn’t be love.

Standard Fare broke up before they made a record I didn’t love. I thought Standard Fare would be bigger than they were. Maybe because they sounded bigger than the venues they played. Their songs were huge. Even their ballads, formed in tumults that owe as much to natural forces as broken-hearted pain, sounded like they’d lift the roof off the Royal Albert Hall. And I thought that one day they’d get the chance to do that.

I probably thought Standard Fare were bigger than they were: every time I saw them – and I saw them a lot – they played to full houses (and even if sometimes that meant 130 people, there were still far more new faces than the other gigs I go to). They never played a bad show. On a good night – and they were all at least that – you had to feel sorry for the other bands on the bill. They never stood a chance.

When three years ago Standard Fare went to SXSW I was sure they’d break America. The power of their songs has something in common with American radio staples like Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen. Only rawer. Their cover of Bon Jovi’s Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night made a mawkish power ballad sound real and alive.

Of course, real and alive and raw doesn’t sell. I see this now, but the romantic tumult of Standard Fare convinced me that it would sell. It sold me, but then the inevitability of love means you can’t understand why other people don’t share your love.

It seems in the digital age every great band will get discovered. What this misses, though, is the dumb luck needed to make it. Maybe at SXSW the right people didn’t see them and they didn’t get the right press.

What a lot of bands who’ve made it will either tell you or know deep down is that their success was due to dumb luck. All the clocks chimed at the same time or the wind blew the right way. Pulp stuck around so long that eventually they were in the right place at the right time; Lawrence knows that he never was.

At no time in the last four years have Standard Fare chimed at the same time as the general public. It’s not inevitable that if they stuck around as long as, say, Pulp their time would come. The Go-Betweens never came near a hit single in their decade. Sometimes, you have to accept that love is unrequited.

What was it they said? Love Doesn’t Just Stop. Their songs remain. They will be rediscovered often enough until they are known, correctly, as classics.

The inevitability of obsessing over pop music means that one day you’ll find out, and sometimes you’ll be reminded, that, as the Argentine author Guillermo Orsi wrote, “love and death are the only stable couple you’ll ever know”.

And if you see Emma Kupa on Saturday, exactly one week after Standard Fare’s farewell gig, maybe you’ll find out, as someone might say one day, that the second act in pop music life is sometimes better than the first act.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Three minutes of uncomfortable listening

What's that then?
It's HEHFU's tape, The Single Collection.
It does include some past releases, or singles, if you like, but this is about being single: they "focus on the break-up of my relationship and the feelings of loneliness, betrayal, false hope and depression...".
The ingredients of indie right there
Pretty much and very well done it is, too. There's furious Mary Chain noise, the scatter-gun approach of Guided By Voices and the rage of Joanna Gruesome in a garage rock ethic. This collection represents HEHFU at their best. They might not get it right every time, but they hit the right spot way more often than not, and they're better and stronger than they've been before.
Just three minutes?
Three minutes - or more often nearer two minutes - 12 times over.