Sunday 29 December 2019

Flying Fish Cove

Each year I make a compilation, rather loosely claiming to be 20 great new acts, or more accurately the ones that have excited me most. And each year I leave out something that really, if I paid more care to compiling the songs, should have been included. No matter, it's just a bit of fun. But never have I made such an egregious error to exclude a new band of the promise and excitement and excellence of Flying Fish Cove.

What can I say? Apart from sorry, of course, I can say that At Moonset is one of 2019's finest albums. It combines The Unicorns' melodic madness, Elephant 6 exuberance, Magnetic Fields' resigned tenderness and Heavenly's joyfulness in romantic despair. I love how they dip into My Bloody Valentine on Dangerous Words - this is a pop band who experiment. That keyboard sound is an omnichord, you know.

They're catchy and kooky enough to hook into the next Alvvays support slot and on the strength of their album and ep my money's on 2020 seeing them on everyone's best of lists.

Saturday 28 December 2019

2019 in 20 songs by 20 new acts

I'm not sure exactly what happened in 2019, but here we are. There's so much going on it's impossible to impose any sort of order on the year in music. So much exciting music from Gothenburg, for example, but genre boundaries are their least concern.

The UK's DIY scene is thriving again, but there's no link between Breakup Haircut (tough and tuneful) and Pynch (mutant disco). And there wasn't room for Black Country, New Road (the sound of Slint) although if anyone gets big next year, it'll surely be them.

Australia is disproportionately over-represented, but again I can't really see a scene.

The sequencing lacks a little cohesion simply because of the variety and adventure on offer. And, yes, that is an 11-minute song at track 3. Born Stoned is the best song from one of the year's best albums. And I know Possible Humans didn't, like a couple of other acts, debut this year, but this year is when I loved what they did and bought them for the first time.

I'll send a download to a few friends, one of whom always buys a few things (hi Paul!). Which is sort of the point, as JJ Ulius of the mighty Skiftande Enheter points out:

The money I have made from selling these records is definitely not a huge sum but enough to actually create new creative opportunities that would not exist otherwise.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Skiftande Enheter - Snubblar genom drömmar

JJ Ulius is the most diverse and prolific musician in Gothenburg's world-beating scene. You'll know last year's debut solo single (tipsy Teardrop Explodes psych punk) and you really need to hear Monokultur's album this year (motorik dub meets early 80s electronic ambience). His main band, Skiftande Enheter, were the least interesting project - smash and grab punk, nothing to add. Until the release of Snubblar genom drömmar.

Somehow, for whatever reason, Ulius has discovered Felt's Forever Breathes The Lonely Word. Swirling keyboards and guitars that sound like pins popping in your head. What the flipping flip? Let my research team spring into action.

"Skiftande Enheter started out as a punk band, not the noisiest kind but still noisy enough to scare away the most sensitive ears. Our new record IS noisy but its not really punk anymore, more like pop or new wave or postpunk or something like that. It is probably a bit more accessible too...I have my personal favourites, like the title track ”Snubblar genom drömmar (stumbling through dreams)” In my ears it sounds a bit like a felt song from the ”Forever breaths the lonely word”-era, done our way. Another favourite is ”Min hand i din (My hand in yours)” that has some of the feeling of the most velvet-worshipping Beat Happening-songs."

Such self-awareness. If every musician was as spot on about what they'd recorded we'd never need reviews. And if magazines did their best of lists at the end of the year they'd have space for this album somewhere near the top.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Ducks Unlimited - Get Bleak

"Maybe you should fuck off entirely." Who said romance was dead? Twilit keyboards and irresistible ping pong guitar lines - miserable melodrama and giant pop hooks - summon up one side of Factory Records' ethic, a bit of New Order and a lot of The Wake. That sound later adopted by The Field Mice. There's even some Strange Idols Felt in there - tribal drums twinned with ultra-styled guitar.

This is a seriously good ep. Before you can say 'are you scared to get bleak', all four captivating songs strongly suggest that in 2020 Ducks Unlimited will be the indiepop window to watch. Expect button badge sales to soar. And this pay-off line sung at your local disco: "if you're ever in the mood to dissociate baby, give me a call".

Tuesday 3 December 2019

East Village interview

"We do what we want, take it or leave it. I'd rather be poor than bend over in the record company's office." Most people left it, more fool them. This is the only East Village fanzine interview I remember, from Scotland's Do It For Fun, late 1989.

People eventually caught up. No doubt still more will when Slumberland release Hotrod Hotel on vinyl in January. They were my favourite band for a while. 30 years have done nothing to diminish my love for these songs.

There was a TV interview as well:
"We wanted to start a group with three singer songwriters in it - that's the main idea behind it."

Friday 29 November 2019

Pure Moods - Upward Spiral

Teenage angst so hard to beat, right? Pure Moods’ Adam Modric might be out of his teens, but this low-slung Melbourne jangle has bedroom pop, romantic desolation and low-level isolation written all over it.

Hardly surprising, because Upward Spiral is a collection of home recordings from 2016 to 2019. They’re drowsy slacker rock, laid-back lazy hums and instantly charming. Fans of early Real Estate and The Twerps need to take notice right now.

No expense was spent on these recordings - oh shut up at the back, no one’s putting a monetary value on heartbreak - and even if the whole mopefest checks out in less than 20 minutes it’s because its work is done.

Upward Spiral is released by Tear Jerk Records, who put out one of last year’s great albums, Oh Boy by Massage. Like that, this is pressed in a run of 100 copies, so step to it.

Thursday 31 October 2019

The Golden Age Of Pop by The Hit Parade

Julian Henry declared last year: “I’m about to go on a spree of releasing 7” singles of songs as I write them, which is how I started off back in 1984.” Following a high-level board meeting at The Hit Parade’s label JSH Records, they realised they had too much pop and the only solution was to release an album.

You’ll be familiar with Henry channelling the young Paul Weller (A Town Called Malice to be precise) on Joey’s Girl, and the highwire drama of Oh Honey I. Those 7” cuts are aperitifs to the fusillade of failure that The Hit Parade wrestle with on The Golden Age Of Pop.

The most immediate choices for that now mythical 7” spree are Burden Of Your Beauty (infectious beat pop with double-tracked harmonies), Come And Visit Leeds (Motown’s hit factory plug in Rickenbacker guitars to soundtrack mascara running in tears) and I’m Recovering From You (The Hit Parade dip their hip to Brazilian rhythms while claiming “I’m only 56 years young”).

Then there’s How Can I Tell, in which the amps are turned up to 11 and the drums pounded in what’s surely a successful bid to add a song to the indie disco canon.

Too much pop, indeed. But proving that The Hit Parade’s appeal reaches beyond the teen market, the flinty folk of The Last Boat On The Dock hymns a whimsical ballad. Phew! So many riches.

The Golden Age Of Pop is out now. The vinyl edition comes with a colour comic, Tales From Planet Pop, charting The Hit Parade’s lack of chart success.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Deadbeat Freedom by Ignatz & De Stervende Honden

If you haven’t been paying attention to Ultra Eczema’s releases this year, you’ve been doing 2019 wrong.

There’s the wibbly flashback psych of Noor’s Wont to Wanton Eyebath and then there’s Spelecombo, a bunch of Dutch art students, who might have come up with the best Velvet Underground cover in Daar Gaat Zij.

And then there’s Frank Hurricane’s anti-folk hip hop Pymp World, which is either genius or madness. Maybe it’s both.

Now there’s Deadbeat Freedom by Ignatz & De Stervende Honden, long-form psychedelic mantras meeting acid folk and swamp blues. Its closest relatives might be the cavernous echo and distilled grace of Felt’s Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty or the The Return of the Durutti Column.

There’s definitely a nod to Marquee Moon’s furious duelling guitars on Sweet Dream Ice Cream. You’ll find your own reference points, or just get lost in this album’s enigma.

Thursday 24 October 2019

House Deposit - Reward For Effort

Dolewave was a moment in the Australian underground guitar saga that stopped about 5 years ago, either because everyone realised that they couldn’t top Dick Diver’s Calendar Days or, more likely, because all scenes pass on.

No one, though, could sensibly claim that major contemporary Australian acts like Courtney Barnett and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are immune to dolewave’s many charms. It lives on as one of the influences on a vibrant Australian indie scene.

So it is with House Deposit, whose heritage - slacker rock, languid guitars, suburban depression, irresistible hooks - sounds like they grew up listening to dolewave in high school. And then upped the self-medication with Modern Lovers proto-punk drive and Feelies tangled jangle.

Their misery and melody fits right in with The Stroppies, Chook Race and Dumb Things, three bands who’ve shown different ways to create exciting new guitar pop in Australia with a shy backwards glance at dolewave’s hits.

Reward For Effort is out tomorrow on tape (or today - hello, Australian readers!). I bought the download because I’m 100% certain that some label’s already won the bidding war to release it on vinyl. If they haven’t been signed by the end of the year, I’ll eat my socks.

Monday 21 October 2019

Porcelain Summer - I Dischi Del Barone

In which Swedish label I Dischi Del Barone celebrate 5 years of being the Sound of Young Gothenburg by releasing a 12-track 7” single of bands not on their roster.

This excellent, eccentric compilation of songs about a minute-long each features Amateur Hour and JJ Ulius, alumni of Gothenburg’s Happiest Place Records, confirming that you really need to be listening to everything that comes out of that city and especially these two labels. And I Dischi Del Barone’s reissue label, Fördämning Arkiv, which digs up treasure.

Some of the other acts on Porcelain Summer I also love and know well - Pumice, The Ivytree, Vital Idles. The rest? The label tell it best: “Shimmering lo-fi glory through falling down the stairs pop, free noise skronk, treble-down maxed out folky bliss, electronic bedroom mayhem and more so.”

There’s no stream, it’s sold out at source, but hunt down everything this and those other Gothenburg labels release. They’re responsible for some of my favourite records of recent times. I don’t imagine you’ll love it all - I don’t - but some of it you’ll love so hard it will leave you wondering how you ever managed without it before.

Sunday 20 October 2019

Ex-Vöid - Only One

Ex-Vöid number Alana and Owen from Joanna Gruesome, so it’s not surprising that Only One sounds like My Bloody Valentine. Although where JoGru set their fx pedals to Isn’t Anything, Ex-Vöid gun for the less chaotic melodic maelstrom of Ecstacy and Strawberry Wine.

It’s blisteringly short and manically disordered as they dismantle love in a frenzy of feedback, distortion and pure pop jangle.

Shorter and sharper still is all 49 seconds of Ex-Void’s eponymous b-side which sounds not just like Bikini Kill but that it may have been written and recorded in the toilets during one of their reunion gigs. I think there’s some Raincoats (first album) in there.

They claim to be influenced exclusively by the Raincoats number The Void (which makes sense), Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void” (which doesn’t) and the Washington DC hardcore punk group VOID (I see what they’re doing there, but the hardcore mayhem is surely a nod to Hüsker Dü what with the umlaut in their name).

Of course, Joanna Gruesome claim to have met on a wine tasting holiday and in an anger management class, so they’re just having some fun. As will you when you get this record. There’s no stream. So stop what you’re doing and buy it.

Friday 4 October 2019

Breakup Haircut - What did you expect? I got it off the internet!

The UK DIY scene 4 or 5 years ago was awash with really exciting bands playing pacy, witty, winning punk. Bands like Bruising, Dirtygirl, No Ditching and Dog Legs. I didn't imagine they'd take over the world, but at least they'd take over some people's worlds.

It's been a bit quiet on that front recently, no idea why, but I wonder if Breakup Haircut grew up on those bands while getting fucked on cider in the local graveyard. One listen to Why Can't I Be Cool Enough To Move To Berlin? (where they can play "tiny sold out shows") and you'll be hooked.

As Sonic Youth once said, 'confusion is sex', and I (Don't) Wanna Do Things runs with that (correction: this song is about Chinese capitalism. I've fired my fact checker. You'll never find his body). They find a lighter path with Mum, I Wanna Be A Greaser which, like Glue Sniffer by Daddy Issues, imagines what the Grease soundtrack would have sounded like if it had been recorded in early 90s Boston.

They're playing tonight at DIY Space for London. Reading this at a later date? They're either playing at the O2 or in a tiny sold out bar in Berlin.

Friday 27 September 2019

The Springfields - Singles 1986-1991

This collection could accurately be called “Nuggets: the Birth of American Indiepop”. Sure, indiepop in the USA might have started with Beat Happening’s Our Secret a couple of years earlier, but as a movement of like-minded musicians and fans who looked to Glasgow’s Pastels, Clouds and Primal Scream, all of whom The Springfields cover, it really started with the Picture Book label in Illinois and the Bus Stop label in Iowa.

Ric Menck was at the heart of those labels’ releases, and The Springfields are the heart of his songwriting and musical ethic. These songs aren’t important just because they’re some kind of foundational document, they’re important because, simply, they’re wonderful.

Slumberland was one of the most important labels to start in the aftermath of the mid-west’s indiepop birth, so it’s right that they’re issuing this collection. If you don’t have these singles, you need this album.

I’ll leave it to Ric to explain his songwriting and musical ethic:
“Reach For The Stars was written in our kitchen in about 3 and a half minutes. It was intended as a sort of personal pick me up. Maybe these songs won’t change the world, but they just might sound nice on a dreary day when you’re not feeling altogether tip top!!!”

Friday 20 September 2019

Young Guv - Guv 1

Ben Cook is a man of many hats, most famously - or more likely infamously - Fucked Up. Even though Young Guv are nominally a power pop band, they released an album of bedroom funk last year.

I'm not entirely sure if Cook approached this record - fine though it is - with any great seriousness. You can sing Chris Bell's I Am The Cosmos along to Didn't Even Cry and not come close to losing the tune. And Teenage Fanclub's The Concept, riff and guitar solo, propels Every Flower I See.

But I like this record tremendously. It's good fun, like pop music should be, and I'm certain it isn't trying to be anything else. I'm not taking it seriously, just enjoying it. Cook has done better power pop before - he'll have to go a long way to beat the Winnifred ep by Roommates - but the sun's still out, this is on bright blue vinyl and the world seems just fine while it's spinning.

If I've got a complaint - sorry, I usually do - the chillwave production values let it down a bit. But then the clever money's on Cook really trying to emulate those Choo Choo Train eps. A noble idea and a fine effort, if not quite as good as the source material.

Friday 13 September 2019

Suggested Friends - Turtle Taxi

Can we, at last, dismiss the idea that DIY is a musical genre with a limited sonic range? DIY's ethic, not its sound, is owning the means of production and saying what has to be said. If it has a sound, it's uncompromising voices shouting from the margins for the under-represented and making the personal political.

Suggested Friends are a DIY band and Turtle Taxi is, if anything, a rock album. It's raw and powerful, by turns raucously punk and rousingly emotional, and always anthemic. Like the Minutemen who covered Van Halen, and Standard Fare who covered Bon Jovi, DIY forebears who freed raw and quiet fury from overproduced, overblown theatrics, Suggested Friends realise the tender potential in noise.

Suggested Friends share a DIY ethic, and a musical excellence, with current bands like Itchy Bugger, Big Joanie, Mope Grooves and U.S. Highball. None of these bands sound like one another, but they each hint at different ways in which DIY music doesn't have to be the antithesis of commercial or popular. That despite its economic origins and outsider voice, DIY music doesn't just preach to a small, converted audience. That greater exposure would in fact achieve DIY's ambition of change.

I genuinely can't tell if Suggested Friends are more likely to have listened to classic AOR like Fleetwood Mac or Boston or whatever you hear on mainstream daytime radio, than they are to have listened to DIY contemporaries Personal Best and Muncie Girls and Sheer Mag. But Turtle Taxi's songs share a common ground with all of these artists in sounding like they were written for car journeys and drunken parties and romantic recriminations.

Can we, at last, remind everyone who claims to support DIY to buy the records or tapes or whatever and, you know, actually buy gig tickets and go to them? Because if as many people who claimed to support DIY actually detrousered some cold hard cash then the scene would be even stronger. And Suggested Friends would, rightly, be heard on mainstream daytime radio.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Tracy Bryant - Hush

No one told Tracy Bryant about the difficult third album syndrome, because Hush sounds so effortless. No one told me about his previous two albums, because if they're anywhere near as good as this one I'd have been leaving ritual sacrifices in tribute at his door. Or maybe buying him a coffee on patreon. I'm not a nutjob.

Did someone mention Bob Dylan? They surely must have, not just because Bryant makes everything sound important, so crucial, while sounding like it's simultaneously a drag, but because the songs straddle folk and country and rock.

There's a lysergic haze that suggests some songs may have been encouraged by experiences a little more influential than beers on the back porch. Or maybe Bryant just got his heart broke and wrote a song called Hanged Man with a gun to his head.

If there's a standout song - and I'm not sure there is, but one of them is more pop than the others - then Bury Me nails the wild mercury sound.

Part of what makes Hush so assured is the tight band. Their names aren't familiar to me but they've played with big names like Cate Le Bon and The Allah-Las. These things matter - when you're backing a man who sounds like he's falling apart you've got to stay together. It's a soulful, powerful and very impressive performance from everyone.

Saturday 31 August 2019

KRGA - Mysterious Lady

The Big Star death disc industry - releasing different demos, alternate mixes and live versions in different packaging to people with more money than interest in new music - hasn't come close to unearthing a song as good as Mysterious Lady. Or the b-side, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which is even better.

There's no escaping that Big Star (or perhaps more accurately Chris Bell) is the number one influence on Chicago's Ryan Krga. You can add the Everly Brothers and Badfinger if you want. But these ringing guitars, sad-eyed laments and country-tinged breakdowns pull off the Chilton/Bell trick brilliantly and stand tall on their own without ever coming close to pastiche.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Portishead: Dummy original press release and biography

Geoff has long admired the works of John Barry, A Tribe Called Quest, Giorgio Moroder and Isaac Hayes.

This is coupled with Beth's specific beat for Janis Joplin, Elizabeth Fraser and Astrud Gilberto.

Geoff and beth met on an Enterprise Training Scheme in 1991.

Dummy is the sound of 90s urban blues.

Sunday 28 July 2019

Les Milous - Annie Hall

Jerky and jangly like Josef K with a surf guitar motif and a fun-sized melody played on what can only be a child’s keyboard. This excellent single doesn’t so much have a genre as see Les Milous - the mysterious one-man band JH, recorded in a Stockholm flat - grab whatever the hell he wants and make it work together.

Whatever it's doing, Annie Hall blurs the line between avant-garde and naive art and is all the better for it.

I can’t offer any insights into the lyrics, but I can say with some confidence that the words “Annie” and “Hall” are used at various points. Stare too long and you’ll fall over. Listen once and you’ll fall in love.

Want it? Act fast. UK buyers head to Low Company.

Sunday 21 July 2019

Lachlan Denton & Studio Magic - A Brother

During sessions of sweet silent thought Lachlan Denton summons remembrance of his brother Zachary (“quiet and painfully shy”), his bandmate in Ciggie Witch and The Ocean Party, who died last year at the age of 24.

A Brother is a profoundly moving, emotionally bruising and tender album about love, loss and the unbreakable ties that bind their relationship (“I carry your songs, your blood runs through me”).

The songs are elegies (“a brother and best friend, I love you to the end), they’re tributes and desperately devotional. Over the album’s course, the joys of companionship are contrasted with grief (“this Christmas I won’t be alone, I’ll be with the ones you loved so much”) in an episodic invocation of a life of love and friendship.

How Lachlan has responded so eloquently, so quickly, with such grace suggests not only the love but that their relationship, and Zac himself, offered so rich a palette that inspiration appeared readily.

A Brother doesn’t exactly lay waste to the Dentons’ back catalogue, but it’s better - more powerful, fresher, rawer - than what’s come before. Musically, it rubs shoulders with Wilco’s best. On love and loss, it’s there with Blood On The Tracks and Tonight’s The Night.

This is a record that had to be made. Without A Brother, all that’s left in death is silence. With A Brother, which will live long, there is celebration.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Oroskällan ‎– Oroskällans musikaliska resa i tro, missmod och fantasi

Imagine The Wicker Man soundtrack played by the inpatients of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest after they've flung themselves down Alice's rabbit hole to chase impossible dreams. I don't know if I'm frightened by it or enchanted by its wyrdness. Either way I'm held hostage by its dark powers.

Oroskällan are an acid folk band from Gothenburg. If any of them have day jobs, I'm absolutely certain they'd fail every random drugs test. Their music is hypnotic and cryptic and spellbinding. Maybe there's a 1970s Swedish children's animation where all the kids are kidnapped by a religious cult then sacrificed to a pagan god. And this is the soundtrack.

Part horror noir, part disturbing fairy tale and full-time mind-fuck on psychedelia's fried fringes, this is the sort of album that cratediggers can only dream about disinterring from the private pressing graveyard. But it's brand new.

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.