Monday 20 December 2021

20 new songs by 20 new acts in 2021

All bangers, all classics (some written in attics, some recorded in garages or damp basements) and all new. Some of these acts didn't debut this year (or even this century in the case of Sheila Brody) and Malady slipped out at the end of 2020, but it was released on 7" this year so that makes it real, right?

First year ever without a new Australian band. I must have missed something. You know where the comments box is. San Francisco is disproportionately represented, but if bands from there keep being brilliant it only makes sense.

Tuesday 31 August 2021

The New Existentialists - Poetry is Theft

I have this fantasy of what the perfect Julian Cope album might sound like. It would draw on his ancient past (melody and melodrama), distant past (big-hearted rock with no pomp) and the past he often captures better when writing about it than drawing from it (Japanese psych and motorik propulsion). That album's not going to happen, but it happens, sort of, in Poetry is Theft.

Because The New Existentialists synthesise those influences and go somewhere else. Sometimes by imagining where Roxy Music might have gone with those reference points. But The New Existentialists are led by The Puddle's George D Henderson, so this theatrical romp is intoxicating and makes you realise after a few plays that what you thought you were listening to is something different, something better still.

So I might have been listening to a darkly atmospheric, richly melodic and casually louche XTC playing Microdisney. Or I might have been listening to what the third Only Ones album, Baby's Got A Gun, would have sounded like if it hadn't been cursed by major label interference and narcotic over-indulgence. And if Prince had been in the sound booth.

I'm still not sure what I'm listening to, other than something mad, captivating and wonderful.

Sunday 29 August 2021

Friendly Boyfriend - Pick Up!

From Gothenburg - where else? - Friendly Boyfriend are sleazy Vaselines noise (cheap keyboards, instant tunes and the possibility that just maybe "Julie's Head" is a euphemism), seasick Beat Happening guitars tuned to the key of what the fuck, and in Sleeping (On Your Couch) the numb despair and desolation of Television Personalities' Far Away And Lost In Joy. Or maybe they were thinking Big Star's Third. Same difference.

And? And they cover The Clean's Beatnik if you had any doubts where their hearts truly lie. Four songs, one 7" single. All excellent. Any serious conversation about 2021's single of the year has to include this. Buy now before it starts trading hands for silly money.

Friday 16 July 2021

Poster Paints - Number 1

Remember about 12 years ago when it seemed like every kid in Brooklyn and San Francisco discovered the Shop Assistants and formed a band? We're happily back there again, only the revival is close to home courtesy of Glasgow's Poster Paints.

Number 1 does exactly what you expect, only better: Spector echo, Mary Chain demonic snarl and Aislers Set pop bite with the guitar fx set to fuzz and reverb. And that's their entire output. Everything crossed that there's more to come, because this is pretty special.

My gut tells me they're closest to the Vivian Girls from the last Shoppies revival, so I'm expecting 60s girl group melodrama meeting thrift store shoegaze. But I'm open to whatever comes next.

Thursday 15 July 2021

The Midnight Steppers - Isolation Drives

Shitgaze isn't exactly back - Isolation Drives was recorded between 2007 and 2019 - but The Midnight Steppers have got the core uneasy listening sound of vital early post-punk releases from Flying Nun played fast and fucked up. Think of the corrosive barbarism of The Gordons and the jaggedly caustic tunes of The Clean recorded on a primitive Dictaphone.

Recording 12 songs in 12 years seems antithetical to the shitgaze ethic of feeding early Pavement songs through a two-dollar amp and beating them to a bloody pulp in a damp garage. You'd think they could have done this in a weekend - nothing about this raw feedback and breathless invigoration suggests that much time was spent on refinement.

But if you want a band playing fast and loose with sonic intensity and melodic bloodlust, who call their last song My Broken Guitar (no kidding, you broke it before the first song) then Isolation Drives is your next essential purchase. It came out on tape (of course it did) last year, and there's now a vinyl issue. UK buyers, head to World Of Echo.

Sunday 4 July 2021

Dolour - Televangelist

Shane Tutmarc's mission is to write the songs Paul McCartney forgot to in 1967 and make a perfect facsimile of the Raspberries recording them in 1972.

Televangelist is a modern powerpop classic, with enough deft touches - harmonic soft pop and baroque pop grandeur - to transcend genre or be a period piece.

This album is theatrical, tender and melancholic, and even manages a pagan tribute to Tom Petty (The Day Tom Petty Died). It's basically classic songwriting - I feel certain My Sweet Darlin' is from the great American songbook. But Google's no help, so this must be a Dolour original. Expect 1,000 covers of it in the future.

Thursday 10 June 2021

Take A Seat EP by Nia Wyn

Come Home To You has a massive pop hook, an irresistible groove, all softly punching horns and group soul harmonies. If Mark Ronson had been in the studio, you'd have heard this at least a thousand times and people would be saying 'the new Amy Winehouse'.

You should have heard it a hundred times at least from open windows, shop radios and passing cars. It's that sort of immediate big party tune. Not sure why that hasn't happened yet, but we live in strange times.

I've had this record a month or two and played it more than any other 2021 release. That doesn't mean it's the best - although, come on, if you've know of a better one, give it to me - but it does mean there's more going on in these 8 songs than in other records.

There's skinny guitars (Imma Be Honest sounds like a great lost TLC track), Frank Ocean neo soul (Muzzle), Labi Siffre folk-flecked soul (Who Asked You) and political anger about the NHS (Such A Shame). Take A Seat is a mod record - or, if you like, a distillation of Paul Weller's aims and ambitions, merging the old and the new, creating something very special of her own.

You can still say the new Amy Winehouse if you like, even though she's as much as common with Michael Kiwanuka. On this evidence Nia Wyn easily has enough talent to go where she likes on her own terms. We'll be seeing her name in lights soon enough.

Monday 7 June 2021


The sub-genre 'bands who sound like Teenage Fanclub' doesn't have that many candidates raising their hands up to say 'actually, we're just as good and there's a bit more to us as well'. So welcome Norway's Rider, who unsurprisingly number one of I Was A King, whose Norman Bleik points to where Rider have hitched their (band)wagon.

Smell The Floor is the hit - classic sunny powerpop, a lazy groove, effortlessly catchy. There are also two songs under a minute, one of which they surely turned to the producer and said 'make it shitgaze'. Assuming they had a producer, of course. This ep is very DIY and sounds all the better for it.

And then there's Tape Bounce, where they answer the question 'that weird bit in C.T.A. 102 by The Byrds is good but what would it sound like if the whole song was like that but only weirder still?' Great, in case you wondered.

There were 50 copies of this on 7". They've just pressed 100 more. Now's your chance.

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Blue Ocean

There are two types of shoegaze. Type 1: bands with enigmatic melodies caught in gales of feedback, disembodied vocals, adventurous rhythms and bent notes. Type 2: bands with an fx pedal to hide their lack of imagination, a vocalist who mumbles and complete ignorance of basic hairdressing.

Blue Ocean are type 1 shoegaze. The type worth bothering about. A band who listened to Isn't Anything and rather than thinking 'right, what did My Bloody Valentine do next?' thought instead about where they could go next. That MBV's sonic adventure wasn't a blueprint to imitate, but an invitation to explore uncharted territory.

Blue Ocean, like Weekend and Weed Hounds and Wildhoney before them, find new places in the map to plant flags in. Consequently they sound like one of the most vital bands currently operating.

Saturday 3 April 2021

Los Yesterdays - Nobody's Clown/Give Me One More Chance

You'll know from their first two 45s that Los Yesterdays are pretty good. Well, they just turned up the heat and are now great - their new double sider is a double knockout.

Nobody's Clown is a big city soul ballad. It's 1963 (the band name should give you a clue where their heads are at), Be My Baby is on the radio but you need something deeper. You've dropped from love's euphoria to dumpsville, population you, and this is the only song answering your call.

Give Me One More Chance is better still. A trip through Spanish Harlem, stealthy guitars with a Chicano strut, the post-midnight sound where club soul smoke meets rhythmic punch.

Sunday 28 February 2021

Trevor Beld Jimenez - I Like It Here

Straight up country pop, no freak folk additives, no weird beard transgressions, and no fucking "alt". I Like It Here is country and it's pop, and it was obviously recorded in California - close your eyes and hear the Pacific Ocean surf crashing quietly, see the sun setting over Laurel Canyon.

Even more obviously, this was written by someone who grew up with the radio dial set on AM, where every day you heard The Carpenters, Merle Haggard, Carole King, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. It sounds like it was recorded in Gold Star Studios with a crack set of session musicians - maybe stars that never were but ones with such quality they'll never have to park cars and pump gas - who are having a particularly good day at the office.

In fact, it was produced by Jonny Nieman and Brent Rademaker of GospelbeacH (and many more, you know the score). This is the best record of its type since Honest Life by Courtney Marie Andrews.

Sunday 31 January 2021

Second Hand - Heart Shaped

The sound of young Belfast via Texas is pretty damn special. It's nothing you haven't heard before - Kendall Bousquet's nom de band isn't an accident - but when you hear it done this well, you've got to take notice.

It's Waxahatchee campfire sonic burn-out and Dinosaur Jr listless melancholy that's so insistent it eventually grabs you by the throat and shakes your head until you see stars.

You remember when Teenage Fanclub shook off the grunge baggage with Bandwagonesque? Well, that, only if they'd be on K Records instead of Creation.

Amazingly, Kendall recorded these songs in the first eight months of learning to play guitar and self-record. On this trajectory, the next batch will be solid gold classics. This debut is close enough to that standard now: