Wednesday 21 December 2022

20 new songs by 20 new acts from 2022

What a year for new music! Twenty songs, then, from the 2022 vintage. All by new bands, or new to me. Or in some cases like Amateur Hour and Chronophage and Lewsberg, bands I didn't put on previous years no matter they were as excellent then as they are now.

Yes, I know now that Apollo Ghosts have been going forever, but I only found them this year when they were supporting a band I like. The moral of the story: go to gigs, watch the support bands, find a new favourite band that week.

Doe St - Pandanus

Sinaïve - Ténèbres

Taste - Passed Out In Petals

Eggs - Walking Down To The Cemetery Road

Jim Nothing - Nowhere Land

Spice World - Dying To Go

Fortitude Valley - It's The Hope That Kills You

The Martial Arts - Bethany

Beachheads - Jupiter

Fleur - Besoin De Personne

Astrel K - 'Is It It Or Is It i?'

Chronophage - Summer To Fall

Amateur Hour - Feel My Loneliness

Apollo Ghosts - I'll Be Around

Flinch - thanks Ophelia

Gonora Sounds - Wapinda Mazviri

Semi Trucks - Motorbike Riding Star

Lewsberg - In Your Hands

Green/Blue - Same Waste Of Time

Shawn Lee & The Angels Of Libra - Souvenir

Saturday 29 October 2022

Anna Savage - Queens Rd.

Stripped back ghostly folk like Maxine Funke from the present or Sybille Baier from the past. It really could be from any time.

All spindly fragility, boldly stark and introspective. You could play this next to Flowertown for hushed emotional intimacy. Just two songs now, but as it's so high quality we need an Anna Savage album.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Fleur - Besoin De Personne

Four to the floor nothern soul flavour which asks the really important question: what would Serge Gainsbourg writing for France Gall in the early 80s mod revival sound like?

The answer is: amazing and irresistible. Romantics will want to buy the 7" immediately. Everyone else will knock back another drink and head straight to the dancefloor.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Spice World - Dying To Go

A scratch band with no expense spent and very likely no rehearsal time, Dying To Go sounds like it was made up on the spot and everything fell into place just so. Life's good like that sometimes.

They remind me of early Dick Diver (campfire acoustic pop) and Moses Campbell (ask your obscuro muso friend) and The Mountain Goats (rugged passion). They don't sound like the Spice Girls or any bands named after films except maybe They Might Be Giants.

I'm less keen on What A Pity What A Shame, which suggests lightning doesn't strike twice. There's an album next year on Tenth Court and Meritorio, which I'm looking forward to and hoping that, after all, lightning strikes several times.

Monday 19 September 2022

Sinaïve - super 45 t.

You can’t judge a record by its cover - this one is a tribute to Spacemen 3’s The Perfect Prescription - but you can by its title: Stereolab’s fingerprints are all over lead track Ténèbres. Well, mostly - they hijack The Field Mice’s Sensitive for the tune. This song won’t go out of style after this season.

They play a similar trick - motorik beats and guitar hypnosis - on Trash Mental, drop the tempo for ultra-styled minimalism on Il faudra traverser, then perhaps inevitably switch on the transient random-noise bursts for Space Ronsard.

There’s no getting away from the killer pop tune Ténèbres, but Sinaïve show on this EP they’ve got enough smarts to mark them down as ones to watch.

Sunday 11 September 2022

Fog Pop and the San Francisco scene

Brett Morgen, director of the David Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream, said: “If I do a film on the Beatles, I know they’re from Liverpool. I know they went to India. I don’t need to use the real estate to go there. Just give me the fucking music and give me the experience.”

Well, I do need the real estate because the experience and the fucking music are happening in San Francisco right now. Which is why you’re reading this in the same San Fran backyard as your author, who’s come straight from London.

The San Francisco scene is broadly known as Fog Pop, a term coined by Glenn Donaldson. His band The Reds, Pinks & Purples, along with Cindy, Flowertown and April Magazine, embrace Fog Pop’s central aesthetic: low-key jangle, minimalism, absolute candour of self-expression, and an intimate relationship with intensely melodic 1980s British bedroom pop and K Records’ (ok, I’m really thinking of Rose Melberg) Pacific North West harmonies.

But let’s look at today’s (proposed) line up. The Neutrals: scratchy post-punk and angular guitars by way of Josef K and Big Flame. Chime School: classic jangle from the Jim Beattie school. The Snogs: dissonant strum and thrum with a nod to Beat Happening’s rudimentary years. Flowertown: Fog Pop, obvs.

You couldn’t, even with the most generous perspective, describe those bands as being part of a musically coherent scene. What you have is similar to how The Servants' David Westlake remembers C86:

"I was conscious of there being a scene centred on a number of disparate bands. There are precedents for different people on a scene or in a putative genre having a productive contrariety or antipathy to each other...That went to the heart of C86.”

Crucially, though, I don’t hear any antipathy. I hear the world’s most exciting bands coming from one place and supporting each other. As the grizzled detective in every police procedural drama always tells you, there’s no such thing as coincidence. When you have bands operating in a communal spirit, you get a shared egalitarianism. That means the next act, whatever angle they take, in the spirit of productive contrariety will get a gig with bands with whom they share a city rather than record collections.

The truly great dolewave scene (2009 to 2014, according to me) based in Melbourne was a musically coherent scene because it had these three central features:

1. One of the bands wrote an early anthemic tribute to it (Footscray Station by Scott & Charlene’s Wedding).

2.Another act slagged off the scene (Jack Lee’s Same Thing).

3. Then another act mourned getting older, moving to the suburbs and rolling down the blinds on the city scene (Courtney Barnett’s Depreston).

San Francisco’s current music is too broad to have that scene insularity. But if there’s one song I associate with Fog Pop, rather than the San Francisco scene as a whole, then it’s Slow Torture of an Hourly Wage by The Reds, Pinks & Purples. At the very least, it disabuses outsiders of the notion that all these bands just sit around every day checking their tech stock portfolios while getting stoned and listening to Marine Girls records.

I’d like to think that at least one of these San Francisco bands breaks out into wider popularity, not just because they deserve it but because it will give every great band currently operating a bigger audience.

It’s worth remembering that Grant McLennan was sanguine about The Go-Betweens’ lack of global domination: “Looking back and seeing that none of it charted, a lot of people would say that's unsuccessful. But Marquee Moon sold nothing, and I know much I still enjoy listening to Television.”

None of the wonderful records made in San Francisco recently have charted, but they have devoted fans. I’m certain there are more brilliant records to come. I know in 10 years’ time I’ll still enjoy listening to the ones already out. And no matter they haven’t gone platinum - as long as there’s an audience ready to embrace emotionally uncompromising guitar pop these records will be rediscovered often enough until they are known, correctly, as classics.

first published in the BOardside zine, 10 September 2022.

Friday 19 August 2022

The Martial Arts - Getting Stranger By The Month

If Pretty In Pink 2 ever gets made in Glasgow, then The Martial Arts will soundtrack it. Skinny tie new wave like the first Kiwi Jr album, only with a nod to The Cars rather than Pavement. All sighing backing vocals, fist-pumpin' powerpop and teen energy devoted to gurls and romantic tumult.

The Martial Arts is Paul Kelly (no, not that one, or that one, or even that one) but it's easy to imagine him being called Chip, Buddy or Jeff. I'm sure some of his favourite recording artists are The Go-Go's, Tom Petty and Elvis Costello. And if you were ever in doubt about a central inspiration, The Wild Humdrum hitches its hook on California Girls.

If the UK want to clean up at next year's Eurovision Song Contest, the clever money's on The Martial Arts reaching out across seas to unite nations in a harmonic whole.

Saturday 9 July 2022

Silver Biplanes - Parallel World

Parallel World is Forever Changes mariachi psychedelia meets bewitching English folk. When they pressed record, the sun was setting, home made wine had been drunk and whatever they're smoking wasn't sold over the counter. An instant hit (the music, not what the band were taking).

Think Again elevates the rarefied atmos to, well, let's call it Cosmic English Music. Because they remind me most of Red Chair Fadeaway, once of the Cosmic English Music stable, who numbered the Biplanes Tim Vass, now joined by Vanessa Turner, ex-Melons.

So you know there's pop pedigree, but this is something new (as well as being something old). It's a lathe cut so search auction houses for your fix, or just buy the songs from bandcamp. There's an album next year, and on the basis of these tasters it's going to be pretty sweet.

Friday 8 July 2022

番長 Taste - Passed Out In Petals

Can a 3-minute instrumental be epic? Yes, yes it can. This is an interpretation of the US underground where grunge never happened, the SST and Homestead labels are the gold standard and those early Guided By Voices albums are scripture.

Passed Out In Petals is one dirty, nagging riff run through a 10-cent distortion pedal. There's no great mystery, no puzzle to complete: it starts, bulldozes everything in its way, then ends abruptly because it's finished. As you might be. Your only job is to play it again. And again.

You want biography and discography? Unimportant. Apart from they're from New Zealand so I'm sure correctly prefer The Gordons to Sonic Youth, and they're based in Japan. There are other records under other names, but Passed Out In Petals by Taste is the only one that counts now.

On the ever-reliable I Dischi Del Barone label.

Friday 22 April 2022

Flinch - Enough is Enough

There's a tradition that dictates every insular, low-key, distaff act is compared to the Marine Girls. I get it, but pigeonholing every act as like the Marine Girls dismisses the range and ambition of so many bands.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Marine Girls, but they were so teenage. Comparing being told off by your parents to living in a totalitarian regime (Flying Over Russia)? How about being a bit older, like Flinch's Beth Black, and writing a song called Just Because She Likes The Same Bizzaro Crap You Do, That Doesn't Make Her Your Soulmate Tom?

Flinch are poised between the intimate Pacific Coast harmonies of Rose Melberg, the intensely melodic Fog Pop of Cindy and Flowertown, and the brutally self-reflective humour of anti-folk heroine Kimya Dawson. It will be a major injustice if Flinch aren't the support act on Withered Hand's next stadium tour.

You need this record, and not just because you don't already own one that includes I'm Sorry I Puked On You In That Rented Car.

Wednesday 20 April 2022

Romero - Turn It On

Two years ago, Romero's debut single announced themselves with nagging, intense verse hook melodies like The Strokes once did so irresistibly. Those songs are on debut album Turn It On, but find themselves in the company of peacocking anthems that recall Thin Lizzy and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Gutsy, soulful vocals and duelling guitars make Sheer Mag their closest musical contemporaries, but there's none of Sheer Mag's political clout. Romero's fist-pumpin' soft rock seems untroubled by social consciousness but is superbly alive to axe heroics, love's tribulations and the fall out of over indulgence.

The clever money's on Romero dreaming of drum risers and dry ice rather than a socialist revolution. So what? It's rock music that's trying to conquer the world, not change it. Even if it's all surface, it shines gloriously.

Thursday 10 March 2022

Lewsberg - In Your Hands

Lewsberg have one or possibly two songs, and they're both Velvet Underground songs. Some of my favourite records play the same hand - Bewitched by Luna, for example. It's repetition as an aesthetic, like Galaxie 500.

Any cynicism I had about Lewsberg was blown away seeing them live recently. Their narcotic, monochromatic balladry is restrained and perfectly poised. It's atonal abstraction that's wonderfully unemotional - Yo La Tengo if they'd never heard The Beach Boys.

In Your Hands has no hits. That's the point. The vocals, like Nico's, are litanic, the music sparsely melodic, heavily rhythmic, tribal and ceremonial. It might be an acquired taste. I love it. Acquire it.

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Beachheads II

In which Beachheads wind down the windows, feel the breeze in their hair and set the radio dial to AM. The Cars, Raspberries, Cheap Trick and The Undertones are on rotation. Beachheads - who are titling their albums numerically like their powerpop forebears White Wires - have put in place stricter quality control measures this time round and struck gold.

There's something approaching a powerpop hit factory in Norway. Frode Strømstad from I Was A King and Rider (their debut ep was one of last year's finest offerings) produced the album, and Anne Lise Frøkedal makes a guest appearance.

Anyone sad about Teenage Fanclub not making them like they used to must tune in. And anyone buying the excellent Standing In The Shadows compilations on MeanBean would do well to live in the present by buying this collection of impulsive, knockout pop songs.

Friday 4 March 2022

Doe St

Reports of dolewave's death are greatly exaggerated. Doe St's starting point is Layman's Terms by Boomgates. The album is ragged and playful like Scott & Charlene's Wedding's debut, roughhouse jangle like The Twerps' Black Eyes, sweetly rueful like Dick Diver's Calendar Days, and strong, gutsy and brutally tuneful like Unity Floors.

Like Everybody Split by Possible Humans three years ago (whatever did happen to them?), Doe St is an instant classic that suggests dolewave - pop punch, noisy assault, slacker tendencies - but doesn't rely on a scene. A lot of their raw rock'n'roll sounds like it was made up jamming after a few beers. It's the sort of record only young people with nothing to lose and everything to give can make.

This type of gamble doesn't often pay out, but when it does - and Doe St have hit the jackpot - you've got a classic album. No idea if they can do it again - lightning seldom strikes twice - but this is the sound of kids rolling the dice and getting two sixes every time.

Out now on Legless Records:

Thursday 10 February 2022

Green/Blue - Offering

Green/Blue play with a frenetic mania that suggests a fire alarm went off in the studio and they were racing to finish the songs before they went up in flames.

Offering is jagged and intense post-Pavement rock, like the first two Parquet Courts albums. But it looks a bit further back to the post-punk experimental age with furious, enigmatic Wire riffs and Mission of Burma post-rock predictions.

Even though there’s a lot going on, Offering is immediately attractive and endlessly rewarding.

Friday 4 February 2022

Semi Trucks – Vs. California

Have you ever wondered what The Pastels playing Mazzy Star would sound like? Wonder no more. Brendan Sepe (for he is Semi Trucks) shares Stephen Pastel’s lugubrious drawl and the music is pitched between Mazzy Star’s desolate desert blues and The Pastels’ 1991 brace of bangers.

Come on, Motorbike Riding Star has got to be a nod to Speedway Star. But Vs California is no pastiche and way more than the sum of its parts. It’s equal parts upbeat pop and downbeat introspection, jangle and cinematic despondency.

Bless My Soul by Shawn Lee & The Angels Of Libra

The soul revival scene has been quiet - or short of neo classics - in recent years. Hang on, though, because Bless My Soul channels Curtis Mayfield - the vocal phrasing is uncanny, the stabbing horns just so and the pleading desperation on point.

Souvenir on the b-side drops the beat down to midtempo to hit the jackpot again. Every mod club in Europe will have worn the grooves out of this single by summer’s end.

Moonlove - May Never Happen

The recent compilation Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987 gave the impression that every band was either produced by Mitch Easter or wanted to be. Enjoyable though this snapshot is, it’s only part of the American indie saga.

Moonlove’s 1985 recordings offer a corrective to the riff-based heartlands rock template, suggesting that Fables of the Reconstruction rather than Murmur can be the starting point for REM influence. Or like They Might Be Giants, who also debuted in 85, they were leaning to skewed country-folk.

Maybe they were aware of Flying Nun’s strum & thrum - morosely melodic jangle with violin. At least, these songs are contemporaries of The Bats’ And Here Is 'Music For The Fireside'. Who knows? It all comes back to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground (the clearest musical influence), being young and frenetic and making a raw, loose clatter.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: every great cassette-only release gets issued on vinyl. It’s taken 36 years in this case, but justice has been done.

Artsick - Fingers Crossed

No fuss all fuzz guitar pop. Perfect for anyone missing the Shop Assistants or maybe Slumber Party or anyone who thought 2009 belonged to Brilliant Colors and Dum Dum Girls when the Brooklyn scene was taken over by Southern California.

But even if those bands mean nothing to you but the aesthetic of direct hits, all the needles on red, racing for the prize and crossing the line first means everything, then this is the record for you.

It’s Rockaway Beach transplanted to the west coast (chewin' out rhythms on bubblegum in San Francisco). It’s garage punk snarl and girl group sass. It’s the Shangri-Las reincarnated as a motorcycle gang - tough stance, heartworn songs.

I just knew this album would play at 45rpm. Every song could be an a-side.