Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Jeanines album

This is a story about pop music and its essence. Last Friday, the record shop had 4 albums fresh out the box I was interested in: Bruce Springsteen, Bill Callahan, Neil Young and Jeanines. Reader, I bought just the Jeanines.

The others were all £25. Jeanines was half that price. There was a thing in the 1980s about 7” singles being the pop music ideal and 12” singles were a rip off. This was obviously an indie-centric argument - the public demand for Public Enemy and A Guy Called Gerald singles on 7” was low.

The vinyl size format argument was lost, or its importance diminished, because tapes in the mid 80s outsold vinyl on album, then CDs by 1989 outsold vinyl and tapes together on album. Singles weren’t that important to the industry, even though they remained crucial to indie labels and bands as often the only format they’d release. And that would be on vinyl.

CDs were phenomenally expensive. Now vinyl is. The market for CD albums in the late 80s is the same as for vinyl now: wealthier adults. And the commercial impulse from big labels is the same: raise the margins on heritage music acts’ releases by marketing it as a status product. A London record shop owner told me recently that the high price on new releases he stocks is down to labels raising the dealer price. Pure profiteering.

The 1980s argument for 7” singles largely centred on the tenets of pop music being cheap and disposable, the thrills renewed every week with a new purchase.

Jeanines make exactly that kind of thrilling, disposable pop music. I’m uncertain if I’ll be playing this excellent album in two weeks’ time, but I’ll remember it fondly. Will there be something as good to replace it? I can only dream.

It sounds like 1980s indiepop (The Siddeleys cover isn’t an accident), and slightly later acts, particularly Go Sailor and Heavenly: route one jangle, sharp, simple and effective with inventive, playful basslines. It’s bright and immediate enough to win over fans from outside the indiepop scene.

I don’t know how many pop fans have bought this on vinyl. The label Slumberland has done everything it can - a coloured vinyl import for £12.50? Don’t expect there’ll be a profit there. It’ll be even cheaper in the US.

The romance of this release is that it’s a musical throwback that sounds fresh and is priced affordably. Many of the 16 songs complete their business in 90 seconds and some wrap up everything in under a minute. Its built-in obsolescence is at odds with Springsteen’s expensive string arrangements, a record that sounds like it was made to last or, possibly, not be laughed at.

Albums by heritage rock artists are released on vinyl to make hefty profits and for people to take seriously. They’re really making a case for the CD revival. This Jeanines record has been released to make people happy. Job done.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Peter Perrett interview

Last time Halley's Comet came whizzing down from the heavens, Perrett was sitting on it.
NME, 8 February 1992

Johnny Thunders said to me, 'If you fitted in more then you could make it easy.' But I've never liked conforming to anything.

By the time I was 5 I could do simple algebra which meant I knew more than the teacher. I used to correct the teacher.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Rose City Band

The soundtrack to long, lazy summer nights. There’s whistling on album opener like Miniature Birds by Grand Archives (whatever did happen to them?) with whom they share DNA of backwoods folk, careworn harmonies and roots-based Americana.

Rose City Band put the slowcore into alt-country, all dusky desolation like Georgiana Starlington (whatever did happen to them?). If you want older, classic reference points, it’s hard to look past Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful (tunes), Michael Nesmith & the First National Band (country gets wobbly electronics), and Neil Young (stoned to say the least).

You’ll be even more easily convinced by listening to their blend of folk balladry, psychedelic flights and country overtones. And if they keep on making records this good, no one’s going to be asking ‘whatever happened to Rose City Band’:

Friday, 26 April 2019

How to improve Record Store Day

1. Make the prices the same at every shop.
I know one of the main points of RSD is for record shops to make money, but the mark ups some shops put on releases would shame even the most cynical eBay scalper.

2. Sale or return
Somewhere in the spreadsheets, the accountants have forgotten that the day is about shops (‘stores’) not labels. So labels are chucking out what I can most politely describe as any old crap in a limited splattered edition. It doesn’t matter to the labels if it doesn’t sell. It should. Because shops are stuck with those records for years. I see ancient RSD releases in the racks every week. They’re as attractive as the can of beer and backwash the morning after the party.

If labels had to take back what doesn’t sell, they’d focus on quality output.

3. Dead pop stars stop bouncing after a year
Did anyone really want 5 (FIVE) live Fall albums? And a 7” box set? And two other Fall albums? Yours for £225. Most of them still yours for £25 per album. Death is a good career move for some artists, but not 16 months on.

4. One release per artist
David Bowie’s RSD popularity peaked in 2012 when he was alive. The Starman picture disc (2,000 copies) sells for around £200. 2019’s Pin Ups picture disc (4,000) copies is still not selling in a record shop near you. Along with the other Bowie 2019 RSD releases.

5. Get rid of Black Friday
Or the half-hearted RSD. This is timed for Christmas purchases. But record labels already spend much of the year planning Christmas and save the box sets and special issues for that market. Black Friday is for the stuff not good enough for a Christmas present.

6. Deadline for releases
Also known as stop blocking up pressing plants. Let’s say 90% of RSD releases are planned and agreed by August. Plenty of time to press them for April, especially if there’s no Black Friday. The other 10% can be for newly dead pop stars’ reissues and Courtney Barnett’s annual RSD release (there are other culprits). Crucially, other releases can come out on time. It's all very well saving record shops on one day, but postponing an indie band's album release so they have to cancel a tour or go bankrupt isn't helping the future of record shops.

7. Manage stock levels in real time
How hard can it be to have an online central database where buyers can see the stock in each shop? Not hard at all. Then the weary punter knows which shop to go to after their local has sold out instead of travelling for an hour to a different shop and queueing up for just as long only to be told, “Sorry the Otis Redding has sold out. Can I interest you in a live Fall lp?”

8. Gigs outside shops
Because it’s hard enough to get into a shop without 200 people crowding round the entrance to see Pete Doherty play his poundland Kinks songs.

9. Get rid of Cassette Store Day

Exercise in brand dilution.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Cowgirl in Sweden

This private press issue from the Manchester underground takes Lee Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden as its starting point. If this record isn’t the Whyte Horses trading under another name, I’ll eat my socks.

Cowboy in Sweden - saloon bar baroque, cavernous echo, cinematically psychedelic - was one of the major influences on the Whyte Horses’ debut, Pop Or Not. And so it is here, as the title obviously signposts. Only this is stripped back, without Pop or Not's orchestral flourish. At times, it suggests what Spector would sound like outside the Gold Star Studios and set up to record in a desert shack.

There’s a cover version of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s Here’s Where You Belong - neat in itself, but raises the possibility that the whole album is a collection of obscure cover versions. They're that good.

But really these are songs forged in the same febrile atmosphere as the first three Bee Gees albums, Susan Christie’s folk-psych and any number of soft pop nuggets. Only Don Thomas, unlike Lee Mavers, found a vintage mixing desk with original Sixties dust on it.

Buy it before it starts trading hands for silly money.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Possible Humans - Everybody Split

Everybody Split is 2019’s first classic - the record you know will define at least part of the year and you’ll be coming back to fondly in a decade’s time.

There’s a lot going on here. The lyric "King Crimson covering Nirvana" on Absent Swimmer probably isn't them declaring their inspiration. There is, though, in Orbiting Luigi a pop song with taut folk rock rhythms (maybe they played Before Hollywood before going into the studio). Then there’s the desperate torch ballad Meredith which combines Mope City’s fury with The Twerps' jangle.

Most of all they remind me of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, only better.

The real engine of the album's brilliance, though, is the 10-minute epic Born Stoned, which is the greatest song Neil Young didn’t write. It builds and builds and builds, always threatening fireworks, then stops dead before it can collapse.

I don't really know what these songs are about. They most likely might be about loss and desolation and destruction, because that's what they sound like. I reckon I’ll still be thinking about them years into the future.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

I Was A King - Slow Century

Norman Bleik, I Was A King’s debut single 10 years ago, made their intentions very clear: they liked Teenage Fanclub so much they even spelled the singer’s name wrong like TFC had done in tribute to one of their heroes, Neil Jung.

Norman Blake produces Slow Century and if so far it seems a little incestuous, this album’s quality will brush aside any misgivings. It’s the album Teenage Fanclub forgot to write after Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain, so makes it the best TFC album in over 20 years.

The early 1990s saw three bands emerge - Teenage Fanclub, Stereolab, Saint Etienne - who each had their own retro take but did it so well they made their own genres. In Teenage Fanclub’s case, this is bands who play power pop, jangly guitars and forlorn ballads by way of Big Star, The Byrds and Neil Young, but who sound more like Teenage Fanclub than the bands that informed them.

I don’t think anyone’s ever sensibly proposed that Teenage Fanclub are better than their influences, in the same way that only a few bands have been as good at appropriating those influences since 1990 as Teenage Fanclub are.

What I Was A King have done with their sixth album, though, is make a record to challenge Teenage Fanclub’s dominance. For my money, Slow Century is fresher, brighter and better than Teenage Fanclub have been since the 1990s. It makes the old sound new, the melancholy sound like the heart’s still bleeding, and the jangle as clear and jubilant as church bells on liberation day.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Marvin Gaye - You’re The Man

The release of these 1972 recordings should be a major event in the music calendar. It's not for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they’ve almost all been released before. Secondly, Tamla have released *everything* and chucked in some very unnecessary contemporary remixes. A pared down, tightened up version would showcase the true successor to the all-time classic What’s Going On.

If we were coming fresh to Where Are We Going?, the sessions’ stand out track, then all music publications would have held their front pages. Like a number of the album’s songs, it’s got laid-back funk, supple Latin American rhythms and a richly decorative arrangement.

This record is a missed opportunity to give Marvin’s back catalogue an album his reputation deserves. You see, I think he’s a little overrated. Or not as good as his contemporaries. If I’m making a list of the top 5 acts 1970-75, it’s:

Curtis Mayfield
The Chi-Lites
Neil Young
James Brown
Al Green

If I carry on, it’d still be mostly soul - The Isley Brothers, Bobby Womack, The O'Jays, Tyrone Davies, Joni Mitchell. Rock music from that period is largely very uninteresting. Oh, I think Bowie is *really* overrated. Hardcore soul fans will raise an eyebrow at Stevie Wonder not making the list, then question Funkadelic’s omission. Make your own list.

I’d consider Dylan but only for 74's Blood On The Tracks and 75's Desire. So if you're looking at two-shot artists from that era, then the Raspberries, Big Star, Judee Sill and Nick Drake are at least equal along with Marvin for What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On.

A 1972 release of You’re The Man would have elevated him in my ranking at least. Some of these songs are Marvin Gaye at his best. And when he’s at his best - love in all its pleasure, pain, jubilation and tragedy - very few can touch him.

So strip away the remixes, the alternate title track mix and Christmas in the City, and you've got a 10 out of 10 stone cold classic.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Record Store Day 2019: a very small wants list

Every year I dip my toes into the Record Store Day saga by making a list of what I want, or, you know, wouldn’t mind having. This year’s wants list is especially thin. I’m going to talk myself out of buying most of these.

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks Alternative
The 4 extra songs from the CD reissue. What, I wonder, is so good about Madame George (Take 4)? I don’t know what take is on the original album. Maybe this take has an exciting flute solo. I’m pretty sure I don’t need a longer version of Slim Slow Rider. I definitely don’t need to relieve myself of £22 for alternative versions of 4 songs.

Pete Rock - Return Of The SP-1200
How many times have I played my double vinyl copy of Mecca And The Soul Brother (Instrumentals)? Not many. Could I buy Pete Rock’s PeteStrumentals and PeteStrumentals 2 for the same price as this juvenilia? Yes, so I may as well. Thanks for the reminder, Record Store Day.

Dexys Midnight Runners At The BBC 1982
Fuck it, I’m just going to buy this.

Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth - Robespierre's Velvet Basement
Record Store Day aka expensive vinyl pressings of bonus CDs. Yep, I’ll buy this as well.

Soccer Mommy - For Young Hearts
January 2018, I went to a gig at the Lexington I was certain would define music for the year ahead:
Honey Harper
Snail Mail
Soccer Mommy

Honey Harper were my favourites, but their output remains one EP. Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy put out albums which I didn’t warm to, but many went wild for (I know, there’s no accounting for my taste). Soccer Mommy’s first tape, her best recordings, on vinyl? Don’t mind if I do.

What I really want
A new Honey Harper record. New music by new bands.

What I really wanted last year
No shops had I Am The Cosmos by Chris Bell. Plenty of ebayers did. It changed hands for silly money, then calmed down. Which is what happens every year. I got one this week for $10 from the label. There's a lesson there that won't be learned.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Tight Knit - Too Hot

Too Hot is a one-shot at dirty garage pop glory and it works. Maybe like Deers they’ll conquer the world or like Destiny 3000 burn out in victorious flames with just one record.

And if you think that sounds good, you must listen to Want You which is no ordinary b-side. Hitting the midpoint between insistent post-punk and ragged indiepop (Beat Happening’s Cast a Shadow or The Pastels’ Baby Honey, say) this is essential.

Tight Knit sound like they’ve thrown every ounce of everything they’ve got at this record as if it might be their only chance. As someone once sang, when you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Dumb Things

That's dumb things as in the line from The Go-Betweens' most moving love song, Apology Accepted: "I used to say dumb things, I guess I still do."

Similarly, Dumb Things are from Brisbane and their album is more proof that the very best tapes get a vinyl pressing. They're part of the increasingly countrified Australian indie sound - file them next to Dag, The Twerps and Grandstands.

Their woozy rock sometimes recalls the rustic beauty of Pavement's Crooked Rain. Maybe the lazy, insomniac California sunshine is the same in Queensland. Listen to No One Comes Around for proof.

One of the quietly pleasing outcomes of Australia's vibrant underground this past decade is some bands - Lower Plenty, Dick Diver, Scott & Charlene's Wedding most obviously - showing their Paul Kelly love. His time hadn't come for the previous generation of hip Australian guitar bands, but if anything his folky songwriting and balladry is now an overt and very welcome influence. I can hear it in Dumb Things.

Yes, Paul Kelly does have a song called Dumb Things, but since that's not his finest moment, I'm sticking with The Go-Betweens as the influence for the band's name.

Monorail are the only UK stockists.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Anemic Boyfriends ‎– Fake I.D.

Nothing feeds the sound of the suburbs quite like alienation, parental discord and isolation. It's the same sound and spirit, only magnified, when it's made in Alaska.

The Anemic Boyfriends' teen rebellion anthem is the sound of Alaska, 1981. Our heroine is "getting tired of sitting around bored with nothing to do" because "you can't go out and party when you're only 15". So here's what she's going to do:

Going to find me some guy with a real big car
A ton of mascara and my real tight pants
Cos I want to go out and get drunk and dance

It's fabulously slutty like The Cookies' Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys and owes as much to Suzi Quatro's glam pop as it does to new wave's bare-boned catchiness. Hozac are reissuing this 7". You're going to want to buy it.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Sporten Ar Dod

They were the Swedish Dolly Mixture - three schoolgirls certain that punk’s greatest legacy was The Undertones’ second album, Hypnotised, and now you mention it The Jam made some pretty good singles.

In 1981 Eva, Ulla and Asa made a tape of songs about chocolate and boys. There’s a hymn to Twixes (Raider), a primitive, passionate tribute to Bruce Foxton (sample lyric: Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce….you get the idea) and a pagan tribute to John Peel (disappointingly, this doesn’t go John, John John…). That’s side 1.

Side 2 is a 1982 live recording proving, like their studio effort, their tinny trebliness was equal to the Swell Maps and they’d obviously been listening to the Raincoats. Sporten Ar Dod (Sport Is Dead - man, these girls hated PE at school) are DIY punk forged in the blind devotion to some other bands and declaring their love by forming a band.

And even if they only knew a handful of chords, that was enough. This fine reissue by Fördämning Arkiv, the new reissue branch of I Dischi Del Barone, captures their spirit. As someone once said - you know who, I suspect; Sporten Ar Dod swore their young lives on it - teenage dreams, so hard to beat.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Body Type

The obvious starting point is Beach House, bedroom pop with the curtains open. Slightly less obviously, they want to be the Cocteau Twins and a 1970s AOR band (I'm going to say Wings, but I might be making things up).

Most obscurely, they remind me of a certain Sydney sound I was certain was coming through 4 years ago in The Cathys and Black Springs. Superior jangle, muffled beats and the very real possibility that the only dolewave band they gave a shit about was Scott & Charlene's Wedding. Okay, Dick Diver as well.

There's a video for Dry Grass featuring Lindy Morrison. They're keeping very good company.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Cornelius covers The Pastels

Before he strode the world as a remixer to the stars, Cornelius was rather more indiepop. There may in fact have been none more indiepop than Cornelius's first band, Lollipop Sonic.

Not only did they cover The Pastels' debut single Heavens Above on tape, they released the Talulah Gosh inspired Goodbye Our Pastels Badges on a flexi. And then had another flexi disc.

That was 1988 and 1989, when they changed their name to Flipper's Guitar and signed to Polystar. The flexi disc songs turned up on their first album, Three Cheers For Our Side (did I mention they were a bit indiepop?).

Years later Keigo Oyamada became Cornelius. During the Bowlie festival in 1999, I met Cornelius. The VIP area wasn't policed. I was rather in my cups and found myself in his chalet. His interpreter translated my enthusiasm for Lollipop Sonic and Flipper's Guitar. Cornelius was horrified. He plied me with CDs and other merch in lieu of hush money.

Or he just wanted the pissed bloke out of his chalet.

Of course, by this time Cornelius and The Pastels had remixed each other's work. But this 1988 cover is where it started.