Thursday 27 February 2014

Withered Hand: New Gods

What record has given me greater pleasure in the last 5 years than Withered Hand's Good News? Or in the last 10 years? Drawing on James Yorkston's Moving Up Country - the very heartbeat of the new Scottish folk tradition - and the sparkling eloquence of the Silver Jews' American Water it marked the arrival of a great musical and lyrical talent in Dan Willson.

Where Good News corrupted the Good News Bible with a teenager's spirit and a comic's wit - the anti-masturbation campaigner John Harvey Kellogg on Cornflake; atheistic, sexual rebellion on Religious Songs - from the background of growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, this collection elevates musical heroes as the New Gods.

Those musical New Gods are referenced, or worshipped - King Creosote on King Of Hollywood, the US indie underground on Black Tambourine - by Willson with a full band. So if you can also hear Pavement's Major Leagues on Fall Apart or Galaxie 500's half-lit melodic tricks on Between True Love and Ruin, then they too are the new gods.

But this isn't a record of reference points. How would you explain the zen-like perfection of Horseshoe? It sounds like one of those songs that's always existed. Perhaps in the future it'll never not be playing on an oldies radio station somewhere in the world.

Nor is this a record divorced from its predecessor. Love In The Time Of Ecstasy is namechecked in Love Over Desire and the precisely poised pathos of early 70s Neil Young, which helped define Good News, is carried over to New Gods' ballads.

It's easy to see New Gods selling 10-15,000 copies. The production by Tony Doogan, who worked on Belle and Sebastian's early albums, adds a fresh luminosity that could help transfer these songs, as happened to Belle and Sebastian, to a more mainstream audience.

It's early days, but New Gods sounds like the very best record to come my way in a long time.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Terror of the Deep: Death of the Gideon

A new New Zealand band not from Dunedin, Wellington’s Terror of the Deep have some of that Dunedin sound - The Chills on Times of Uncertainty; David Kilgour’s knack of making intimate songs anthemic - but their eyes stretch beyond their shores.

Yes, Fallen Down Tree does have something of The Cure’s Head On The Door about it, but elsewhere there are suggestions of what REM’s later work might have sounded like if they’d written it as young men. And there’s a wayward backwoods folk thing going on, quite possibly the influence of ingesting something a little more potent than Speight’s lager.

This ep is Terror of the Deep’s first vinyl release. It’s great.

Out this week, only available at Selection for now.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Shorts: Berlin 1971

Shorts are bang in the middle of Scott & Charlene’s Wedding’s addictive verse-hook melodies and Free Time’s 4AD haze. Hardly surprising because Shorts is the project of S&CW guitarist Michael Caterer, backed by Free Time’s bassist.

So Berlin 1971 is those things with the shimmering psych of Woods’ Bend Beyond. It’s what The Twerps are doing only better. I bet The Creases are kicking themselves that they didn’t come up with this song first and Teenage Fanclub are rueing never writing it in the first place.

OK, it’s about time Paul Kelly’s Post was re-evaluated as one of the most important influences on the new Australian underground pop.

Friday 14 February 2014

Jangle Town: Nikki Sudden & the Jacobites

Nikki Sudden's first 4 post-Swell Maps albums have been reissued by Numero. You'll love them if you ever imagined what a skid row Dylan playing with a post-punk Ronnie Wood might sound like: deathly romantic, intensely dramatic and tangled up in blues.

I'm no Nikki Sudden expert - the popular vote goes with Robespierre's Velvet Basement if you want a starting point, though I'd leap in and get all 4 albums. Because all these albums have at least one song that's almost as good as Jangle Town from his sixth album, Texas, and that's reason enough to buy all of them.

'Almost' because Jangle Town is one of pop music's high points. And maybe because you've got to have songs against which others must be measured. And that measurement is a song standing tall for 28 years and never leaving you.

Let's say it one more time for the broken-hearted: "I never said that I'd break your heart, but it was easy to do."

Here's the press release for this single from 1986. "He wishes to either remain or become a 'misunderstood songwriter and genius'." I guess he got his wish. Nikki Sudden died in 2006.

Wednesday 12 February 2014


Fuzzy came together by accident. Nic Dalton called them"scary, angry girls - a rockin' band". They told Soul Asylum to fuck off. Lemonheads drummer Dave Ryan loaned them his rehearsal space. Their first album, released 20 years ago, is a punk-pop classic.

Not many people recognised its potential then and it's still not recognised as the classic it is. A lot of bands are doing this sound in 2014. I bet the better of them all know Fuzzy.

I'm sure you can download it for free somewhere, but this is not that place: find it in a second-hand record shop. Finding diamonds in the rough is what they're for.

A longer version of the Fuzzy story is in the press release for their self-titled album. Seed, an Atlantic subsidiary released it. Their roster was brilliant - The Nightblooms, The Earthmen and Ivy for starters - but strangers to commercial success. There's a great Seed story to be written by someone one day.

Monday 10 February 2014

Burnt Palms/Gurr split tape

Burnt Palms deserve to be bigger than The Beatles and fatter than Elvis. What they do might be pretty simple, but they nail that femme-fronted pop punk better than the rest.

They share the fizzy snap of Fuzzy and Magnapop from 20 years ago, and are way closer to Velocity Girl than any of those recent ‘something Girls’ bands, which means their sound stretches beyond owning a Shop Assistants album.

Try the psych-drenched organ of Zombie Haze, which would take pride of place on a Pebbles compilation, and if you can find one of the 100 copies, grab their album (it’ll “break your heart and bring it back to life”).

Gurr’s garage rock throttles reason - demented and blistering like Wax Idols only more so. Why haven’t Hozac signed them? The clever money says they - or someone - will after hearing these 3 songs.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Freschard: And The Rain/Monsters

"Thank God for the rain, what a metaphor," Julian Henry once trilled. Thank God, too, for The Wave Pictures who've breathed a different life into two fine Freschard songs.

You'll know And The Rain from Freschard's excellent Boom Biddy Boom album, and you might recall Monsters from Shh...: here they are in a new light. These could be extras from Jonathan Richman's Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow set, all stealthy guitars, midnight atmos and Lou Reed noir. Did someone say The Clientele? Because that works, too.

Yes, you could download it, but this picture disc, the first of 7 this year from the dependable wiaiwya stable, is a handsome beast. So fine I'd eat my dinner off it if I didn't want to play this irresistible single again and again.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Dora Maar

Franz Ferdinand reinvented Josef K’s stuttering post-punk to "make records that girls can dance to”; Dora Maar have taken Josef K’s template and made music that you can read Penguin Classics to.

Actually, that’s what Josef K did originally: nervy, awkward and smart, the electric frenzy of Wire in Velvet Underground’s demi-monde. And that’s what Dora Maar do, too.

At their best on Jessica Says (yeah, they used the VU-song-name-generator for that one) they’re terrific. They’re at their weakest when they fail to transcend their influences - really, guys, Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now is just too famous to appropriate, even when mixed with Josef K's Heaven Sent, on Anna Karina, 1965 - but this 6-track tape is a very impressive debut.

If they can find a way, like both Pulp and Edwyn Collins eventually did, to match the Chic Organization’s gravitation with punk’s vitality then they’ll light up the charts. Jessica Says suggests they could. Your call, Dora Maar.

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