Sunday 29 December 2013

MANE - Bloodstone

Post-punk with a side order of goth - think in recent times Blank Dogs or maybe even The Mantles - in a 5-song 7" (which is neatly marketed as a mini-album) from California.

I bet MANE are thinking more of Siouxsie's midnight howl and Kleenex's primitive punk. It works, too, with its depth-charge bass and sludgy menace. Pick of the bunch, and the song that had me opening my wallet to buy the record, is Older.

Sunday 22 December 2013

The 1990s revival

The prevalence of chopping guitars, strong riffs and an enjoyably high level of femme punk pop in 2013 is remarkably similar to the early 1990s musical map. There’s a pop theory that scenes repeat themselves after 20 years (as if time alone would explain the late 70s popularity of both Showaddywaddy and the Grease soundtrack), but to paraphrase EM Forster, ‘one revival may explain itself, but it throws no light upon another’.

The key to explaining the resurgence of bands turning up the volume, mixing gale-force attitude with dynamic hooks in 2013 is in the early 90s representing the last time popular alt-rock had its roots in the underground.

This vision of the early 90s is one where Hole’s Live Through This is fundamentally more important than Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s a standpoint where grunge’s legacy is known, accurately, as ushering metal into indie’s purview and opening the gate for nu-metal to be taken seriously.

Grunge’s legacy was driven by commerce and the historical popularity of metal (its sales really do make indie look like piss ants). What the sales ledgers miss, though, is the US hardcore’s influence on both grunge and the early 90s alt-rock scene. Nirvana’s bassist Krist Novoselic, described their sound as “nothing new; Hüsker Dü did it before us”.

So when indie bands are described as sounding “1990s” the meaning is not grunge, it’s not nu-metal and it’s definitely not Brtipop; it’s that early 90s sound of bands picking up the still-hot trail of Husker Du, it’s Dinosaur Jr and the Lemonheads getting slightly more commercial, it’s Become What You Are by The Juliana Hatfield Three, it’s The Breeders and Belly, and it’s Husker Du’s Bob Mould breaking out with Sugar’s Copper Blue.

These records sold huge amounts. The Breeders’ Last Splash sold a million copies, Belly’s Star hit 800,000, and the Lemonheads and Dinosaur Jr charted. Like grunge, these bands came out of the 80s US underground. Like grunge, though, there was a commercialised cut-off point.

The combination of frantic power pop and higher production values was taken up by Alanis Morissette on her third album, 1995’s Jagged Little Pill. Selling 33 million copies – the 11th biggest album of all time – killed the scene it hijacked its sounds from.

But as long as there are teenagers there’ll always be a new audience for confrontational guitar rock. So this year when The Courtneys (named after Courtney Love rather than Courtney Taylor, I suspect) half inch the bass line to Sonic Youth’s 1994 song Bull In The Heather on Dead Dog from their excellent self-titled debut, you’re hearing part of the new generation reaching back to the last time when the popular alternative had its links to punk’s grassroots.

When you see twin sisters Katie and Allison Crutchfield, a la Kelley and Kim Deal, breaking out with Waxahatchee and Swearin', there’s a neat parallel with the early 90s. Just as there is with the Crutchfield sisters’ far superior Bad Banana lurking in the underground. Because – and I say this from bittersweet experience, not snobbery – the best stuff tends to stay to under the radar.

Thursday 19 December 2013

A Christmas gift from New Zealand

Two generations of New Zealand pop, the brand new Trick Mammoth and the ageless Puddle, have joined forces for if not exactly a xmas single, then a single out for xmas.

It's a Puddle song with the Mammoth's (as no one's calling them) Millie and Adrian adding backing vocals for extra atmos. Hedgehog Hill is sleight-of-hand psychedelia, matching pastoral wonder with lysergic fantasy in a melodic tailspin. If you're wondering what that repeated refrain is, it echoes The Go-Betweens' Cattle and Cane.

And if you've just come to the new sound of Dunedin, this is the right moment to discover some older sounds in The Puddle's catalogue. Start with last year's Secret Holiday/Victory Blues and lose yourself backwards.

Monday 16 December 2013

This is not the top 22

It's 22 songs from 2013 that hark the heralding of an annual CD I foist on ever-wearying friends, some of whom I suspect then give it to enemies in the work Secret Santa.

A 'best of' 2013 would have to include at least one song by Scott & Charlene's Wedding, but they were on last year's compilation. Take this recent conversation:

Ungrateful Bastard: That's a funny name. Maybe I'll see them when they play at your club.
DNC: You should. They're great.
UB: What are they like?
DNC: They were on the compilation I gave you.
UB: Ah, I didn't get that far with it.
DNC: It was the first track.

No, I don't just make compilations and if anyone else likes them it's a bonus. It's one a year. Someone got round to playing 2010's effort this year. Really liked it, too.

Thing is, I'm generally friends with captains of industry who are too busy to listen to new music - even when it's handed to them in some cases - but a few will find something new to love. Or have their prejudices confirmed that the noise made by antipodean wastrels with poor job prospects and questionable hygiene ethics really isn't their thing.

Which is fine. I'm certain that I wouldn't like half of a compilation a friend might make me.

Concessions have been made. I really don't think Follakzoid's Chilean krautrock would tickle the fancy of any recipients, but Follakzoid II really is a tremendously intense and exciting record. And there's nothing from Hacia Dos Veranos' Limay, because everyone I know - and no one else - already has a copy. It'll be recognised as the classic it is in the future.

And, yes, I know the Little Big League single was last year, but it's short and sweet and there wasn't room for the longer songs from their (brilliant) album, These Are Good People.

Anyhow, these 22 songs are an introduction. May a few of them open new doors to old friends:

1. Money - Lady
2. All Over the World - The Prophet Hens
3. Complicate - Trust Fund
4. No More Guns - Mr Benn feat Tenor Fly
5. If I Died… - Sweet Baboo
6. Calendar Days - Dick Diver
7. Cabin Fever - The Steinbecks
8. Turpins Falls - The Stevens
9. You're Not The Target - Clearance
10. Memory Chester Lane - Dog Legs
11. Like Me - Wildhoney
12. Lost Without You - Martha
13. Nothin But Nice - Free Time
14. Fool's Melodies - Web of Sunsets
15. I Won't Wait - The Creases
16. Buried In The Ground - Tyrannosaurus Dead
17. Step Right Up (Pour Yourself Some Wine) - Alex Bleeker and the Freaks
18. St. Johns - Little Big League
19. Walk In My Shoes - Trambeat
20. Avant Gardener - Courtney Barnett
21. Black Sail - Chastity Belt
22. Gust - Georgiana Starlington

Sunday 15 December 2013

The World EP

If you're asking what's the best record to be reissued this year, then it's Vehicle by The Clean. But if you're asking which reissue matched quality with the unknown - a real archival treat - then The World's eponymous EP recorded for Flying Nun in 1983 would right up there.

This concoction of folk-revival mystery, Josef K agitation and 4AD atmospherics wasn't a victim of the Flying Nun quality control department. How could it be? It's a wonderful record. Simply, The World broke up.

5 of this EP's 6 songs were released on a 7-song tape on Robert Scott's Every Secret Thing label in 1984. I wonder if The World's violin-led folk was on Robert's mind when he was writing The Magick Heads' material.

It's a shame that Unwucht didn't include the extra 2 songs from the tape; some liner notes wouldn't have hurt and I'm sure a more ambitious edition than 250 copies would have found warm homes. Still, in a year of great New Zealand reissues - you should have a listen to another Every Secret Thing act, Robert Scott's own Gordon Wallace, exceptionally good 1987 demos - The World stands out.

You'll need to play this video on the loud side:

Saturday 7 December 2013

Best lyrics of 2013

I'd like to say that the Did Not Chart awards committee has given great thought to this enterprise, but really these are the first ones that sprang to mind. All great lines from great songs, though. And there is no committee. Or prize. But if any songwriters want to claim a prize you can have a free compilation CD I got at the independent label market last week.

Sweet Baboo - If I Died

And Daniel Johnston has written hundreds of great tunes
And I've got 6
So I guess there's some catching up to to
To tell you that I love you
To tell you that I'm sorry for what I am

Dog Legs - Memory Chester Lane

Boy number 4 kept fucking whores

Chastity Belt - James Dean

oh boy, when I fuck you
you make me feel like a prostitute
when you fuck me
yeah, I make you feel just like James Dean

Martha - Lost Without You

I threw my phone away,
So you couldn't call and I couldn't say,
The words I knew would eventually betray me

Trust Fund - We'll Both Apologise

I'm sorry that you had to listen to me play the guitar
For 3 hours and counting

Little Big League - Never Have I Ever Walked Away When the Time Was Right

And the beers they came and went, exposing the pornographic larks of our past
Filling the spaces we'd all chased to forget, I find peace in this

Scott & Charlene's Wedding - Lesbian Wife

One day I'll be coming home
Watching NBA with my lesbian wife

Colour Me Wednesday - Bitter Boys

Only have angry songs written about me,
bitter boys making noise between their bedroom walls.
Gonna collect them up and make a mix cd,
probably get more radio play than me

Edwyn Collins - 31 Years of Rock n Roll

I've found a reason to carry on
Just for the thrill
I'm better now
I've made it through my life once more
I feel alive it's good to feel

Lady - Money

The whole bloody thing. A fantastic version of my favourite song of the year. The ladies are having such a good time. Especially when they do what I must accept as the international dance movement for "stormy". I hope this version gets released.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

The Stevens: A History Of Hygiene

What an album! 24 songs over 2 sides, many punching in and out at around the minute mark, with the crunch of Wire and the shitgaze zip of Times New Viking. In its controlled chaos, roughouse riffs and goofy titles (Skeleton Vs Silicon or Blind In One Ear anyone?) A History of Hygiene draws on the highpoint of the last 20 years of DIY, Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand.

This record has it all - punk rock, pop and psychedelia - and in Challenger a song that really sounds like it should've been on Bee Thousand. Yeah, that good.

Then there's the weird vocal and lyrical detachment rubbing against the musical explosion. Take the start of Red Ribbon: "I saw a picture of a dead girl/I didn't mind". How's that for an opening line.

And then there's the bass line in Scared of Other Men, which sounds the same as Standard Fare's Crystal Palatial. Maybe it's a co-incidence, but The Stevens sound like they're keeping good company. Of course they are, they're from Melbourne which is showing no sign of letting up as a nursery for many of the world's most exciting bands.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Aztec Camera biography and personal stats

This is sweet. In 1985, Sire issued Backwards and Forwards, an Aztec Camera 10" (in a 10" x 12" sleeve), with a biography of the band and vital statistics of each member. It seems like the label was going for the mass teen market.

Of course, why wouldn't the label or the band have that ambition? But as experience shows, quality or even critical acclaim don't go hand in hand with commercial success. Despite Mark Knopfler producing Knife the year before, the gap between million-selling Dire Straits and Aztec Camera was obvious to radio stations.

A subtle interpretation of Van Halen's Jump maybe persuaded some Aztec Camera fans that, hey, Van Halen were pretty good, but I doubt if any fans of fist-pumpin soft rock anthems swapped stadium rock for sophisticated bedsit pop after hearing Aztec Camera's Jump.

Nonetheless, teen fans would want to know the birth date, eye and hair colour, and height of Roddy Frame, Campbell Owens, Eddie Kulak, Dave Ruffy and Malcolm Ross. As I'm sure everyone does even today. So here they are: