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.