Sunday 31 August 2014

Smile: Blvd

Countrified slacker rock - like the Silver Jews and Teenage Fanclub, or Lemonheads on the comedown, or Pavement on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, or Luna's bewitching melodies. Really good stuff. You get the idea.

So slack, in fact, there's no stream of it. But if you know last year's Life Choices album, you'd buy it without hearing it, too. Because Life Choices has the brilliant VU-update Still Waiting For My Man, it's got a glassy guitar riff on the wonderfully titled Stoned (Get These Fucking Flies Off My Fucking Face/Shut Up And Make Money) and it's got Sunni Hart.

Sunni Hart is an uncompromising explosion of devotion to one woman. It's in the same league as The Modern Lovers' The New Teller and Buzzcocks' Love You More. It offers more in just 70 seconds than some bands do in a whole career.

Sunni Hart / Born Again by SMILE from MAX TURNER on Vimeo.

Sunday 17 August 2014

The Hummingbirds

Alvvays – writers of the year’s biggest pop song, Archie, Marry Me –have the good taste to cover The Hummingbirds’ 1987 debut Alimony live. I hope they record it and introduce The Hummingbirds to a new audience.

After Alimony, The Hummingbirds released 3 more powerpop singles – every one of them a peach - in 1988 on Sydney’s Phantom label. It’d be very difficult to find fault with any side of these records, so I won’t even try.

Guitarist Simon Holmes said:
I was very big on this whole Smiths or Beatles idea of putting out a new single every three months, putting new stuff out all the time: bang, bang bang. It was an exciting thing to do.

They then signed to rooArt. Their first big-label single Blush has a booklet where the band tell their story:

The legendary Mitch Easter worked on their 1989 Love Buzz album. Unusually, Easter’s Midas touch didn’t work. All 4 of the Phantom songs reworked by Easter sound better with their original sandpaper riffs, cheap hiss, guts and glory.

At the time this looked like a classic case of big money trying to get an indie band to cross over to the charts. It didn’t help that their videos were mostly awful.

But they were still great tunes and the US market, especially, takes to commercial powerpop. Maybe the time and the image wasn’t right. 2 years later when The Hummingbirds released their second album Va Va Voom, grunge had crossed over. Radio and TV were playing 'alternative rock' like never before. The door was open for The Hummingbirds to reach a big audience.

Again produced by Mitch Easter, Va Va Voom is brutally beautiful, tender, tough and hook-laden. It really is one of the great lost albums of the 1990s. The same year, 1991, Matthew Sweet made the US top ten with Girlfriend. It takes no leap of faith to believe that If A Vow could have had similar success.

The time was right for The Hummingbirds. If only their label had kept faith in them, they’d have been massive. But Va Va Voom only got an Australian release. Someone should reissue it. It's a masterpiece.

The Lemonheads scored their biggest hit in 1993 with Into Your Arms, co-written by Hummingbirds bassist Robyn St Clare in her other band the Love Positions.

Disregarding commercial concerns, any time is right for The Hummingbirds. You’ll have no trouble finding Love Buzz cheap in a second-hand shop. And hunt down Va Va Voom. You won’t regret it.

Thursday 14 August 2014

Haircut: Sweatshop

Funny, ain’t it, that of all the many great new bands from Melbourne in the past 3 years, there isn’t one you could say ‘that’s the new Lucksmiths’. You can now.

Haircut’s Sweatshop tape has got the misery and melody (World I’m From), the instant jangle (Sweatshop Mermaid) and the desperate suburban longing (Life After Extreme Weight Loss - neat titles, huh?) to mark it out as classic indiepop.

If this were the early 90s, Haircut would be on Summershine with The Rainyard, The Sugargliders and The Tender Engines. Don’t know those bands? Start with Haircut - the new stuff is always more exciting - and work backwards. You’ll have a great week.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Frankie Cosmos: Zentropy

The K label must have been on holiday when Zentropy was doing the rounds because this fits right between the ramshackle thud of Beat Happening’s Black Candy and the falling-apart fragility of The Crabs’ Sea and Sand.

Frankie Cosmos - or Greta Klein - is so young (19) that on Birthday Song she measures age in days not years. You can measure her songs in seconds not minutes: nothing’s wasted or left out, even - or especially - in the 67-second stark confessional I Do Too.

All 10 songs fit on one side of a 12”. They do everything they’re meant to.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Robert Forster: Q & A

If you weren't in a band what would you like to do? "A magician."

From Shy Like You zine, 1987.

Friday 8 August 2014

Ciggie Witch: Rock and Roll Juice

This has all the low-slung drawl of Lower Plenty and Dick Diver’s immediate pop appeal. Like Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, it’s got plenty of low-level alienation, basketball references on Internet and Taylors Lake, and a distinct sense of Australian suburban life.

They call this music dolewave, which is Australian for slacker rock, but there’s much more to what is an incredibly evocative and engaging album. Like Posse’s Soft Opening - maybe 2014’s most criminally unheralded record - Rock and Roll Juice is quietly affecting and, in places, genuinely moving.

Ciggie Witch’s gift for tender, countrified and careworn songs makes them the best bet since The Grand Archives’ exquisite debut 6 years ago to make the follow-up to Summerteeth that Wilco never nailed.

Thursday 7 August 2014

1979 Now!: Vic Godard & Subway Sect

You know how good Caught in Midstream is? Course you do:

Vic's northern soul album is out on October 6. This is very good news. Here's the press release:

After the release of 1978 NOW in 2007, a re-recording of Subway Sect’s ‘lost album’, recording and releasing Vic’s Northern Soul songs seemed a natural follow on. Initiated into the world of Northern Soul after Paul Myers passed on a bundle of 45s in 1978, the deceptive simplicity of many of the records convinced Vic to start practicing songs he had been writing in his bedroom, which would eventually lead to 1979 being one of his most productive song writing years.

An unexpected support slot for Siouxsie and The Banshees in Camden, 1980, meant many of the songs comprising 1979 NOW! got their first airing. Alan Horne recorded everything from their Northern Soul inspired instrumental opener, which was later reprised to close the set to songs such as Caught In Midstream and The Devil’s in League With You. The bootleg eventually found its way to Edwyn Collins, who chose to record Holiday Hymn for Orange Juice’s 1981 Peel Session.

Nearly thirty years later and the seeds of 1979 NOW! took root, but went on the back burner as attention turned to other things, like recording We Come As Aliens, gigs and the release of Live In Stereo (2009 gnu inc).

Fast-forward to 2010 and with WCAA released (CD Overground/Vinyl gnu inc.) attention briefly returned to 1979 NOW! Eventually, after careful consideration, Myers agreed to come on board with Vic’s long time collaborator, friend and fellow Chelsea fan Paul Cook, to record 1979 NOW! and perform live with Subway Sect; Kevin Younger, Mark Braby and Yusuf B’Layachi.

Work began on the first 1979 NOW! tracks at West Heath Studios in 2012 with Edwyn Collins and Seb Lewsley recording and producing. By spring 2013, with four tracks in the bag, AED Records released the Caught In Midstream/ You Bring Out The Demon In Me 7 inch. Recording continued through 2013, mixing and mastering completed in April 2014.

1979 Now! Intro
Holiday Hymn
Happy Go Lucky Girl
The Water Was Bad
Caught In Midstream

The Devil’s In League With You
You Bring Our The Demon In Me
You Made Me
Born To Be A Rebel
Get That Girl
1979 Now! Outro

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Bluebells: Exile On Twee Street

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that the demos are always better than the 'proper' recordings,” Bluebells bassist Lawrence Donegan claims.

The 20 demos on Exile On Twee Street don’t fully support that claim. The Bluebells’ vision of fusing Celtic folk passion with jangling Byrds guitars and Lovin’ Spoonful melodic intensity is only fully realised on some of their songs when they had a major label’s recording budget.

But some of the original versions here are better - Red Guitar is more powerful with its demo spit than it is with London’s polish. Small Town Martyr regains its poise and whip stripped bare of 80s production values. And Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, their mooted Postcard debut, would in its reckless abandon to romantic vagaries need no reworking.

The Bluebells were progenies of Orange Juice. And they were much better at realising their vision on a major label than Orange Juice. So Exile On Twee Street is no Ostrich Churchyard, the album Orange Juice would have put out on Postcard.

Every song on Ostrich Churchyard that was redone on Polydor for You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever shows higher production values didn’t benefit Orange Juice. All their songs had greater effect on a shoestring budget. When Edwyn Collins misses every one of the high notes covering Al Green’s L-O-V-E (Love) you can imagine Polydor’s A&R department looking for a release clause in Orange Juice’s contract. Failure never sounded so glorious.

The Bluebells’ One Last Love Song, Wishful Thinking and No One Ever Waves Goodbye wouldn’t sound out of place on Ostrich Churchyard. There’s a fantastic album in Exile’s 20 tracks. Maybe the forthcoming vinyl issue will reveal what the band think that might be.

I know what I think the album might be; you, too, will have your favourites because there are many great songs here. There are also many great songs on The Bluebells’ 1984 album, Sisters: Syracuse University, Cath and I’m Falling, for example.

They were a great band. Maybe in the early 80s there was only room at the top for one band in the charts, Dexys, to combine Irish folk music with searing passion. But The Bluebells had hits and they looked at home on the pop star circuit:

Yes, they scored a posthumous number one with Young At Heart on the back of a TV ad in 1993. But that’s a different story entirely. The real story - and what a story - is somewhere in Exile On Twee Street.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

An interview with The Clouds

The Clouds made one fexi and one single, 1986 to 87. That was it. People rightly still talk about them today. The brothers Charnley liked drinking and hated everything else, especially other indie bands and, rumour maintains, each other. But maybe that was the drink talking.

I only remember one interview with them, from the excellent Shy Like You zine:

Someone must have a load of Clouds demos. A retrospective would go down very well. For fun, compare and contrast Joanna Gruesome's Pantry Girl with Tranquil: