Thursday 2 November 2023

Portable Radio - Counting To Three

Two things to know about Portable Radio: they like The Beach Boys a lot and Paul McCartney is their favourite Beatle. Counting To Three is an album of three-part harmonies, sentimental soft pop, featherlight psych and 1970s AM radio.

The third thing to know is that they’re not trying to be cool. Yes, Good News might sound a bit like Emitt Rhodes but it really sounds like ELO. Live Wire’s understated melodrama? That comes by way of The Commodores and The Carpenters.

If you want the melancholy of Big Star then listen to #1 Record. But if you want the melancholy songs of a band trying to make a number one record then listen to Portable Radio.

This is a wonderful collection of catchy, tightly written and dreamily romantic songs that richly deserve to nestle against your Bread records. They don’t sound like a million bucks, not quite, not yet. But give them the keys to Abbey Road Studios, a string quartet and a brass section, then they’ll sell a million records and lift the roof off the Royal Albert Hall.

Thursday 26 October 2023

Cuticles - Major Works

New Zealand's shitgaze aesthetic, following The Midnight Steppers, is alive with Cuticles making uneasy listening essential listening. Cuticles aren't at all cute - feeding corrosive tunes through a charity shop amp and beating them to a bloody pulp is far too caustic for that.

NZ antecedents might be Shoes This High and the 3Ds, although Cheese In My Brain and Steal My Statue reveal a familiarity with The Verlaines. But I hear more Sonic Youth distortion, Pavement atonal tunes, Swell Maps chaos and lyrical ranting by way of The Fall.

18 songs in 41 minutes. They say: "We are not able to be composed at all times and try to accept this state without guilt...parcel up some cracks." No kidding. All the songs are short and all of them are vital.

Tuesday 28 February 2023

Spiral XP - It's Been A While

No question Spiral XP have the first two Ride EPs and Whirlpool by Chapterhouse. Deja Vu (maybe that's tongue-in-cheek self-referential) is a pure vortex of crashing guitars, melodious mayhem and a thunderous call to the indie disco dancefloor. I can hear the riotous uproar of early Dinosaur Jr in there as well.

Free Thinking and The Hunger are more adventurous, hinting at a working knowledge of My Bloody Valentine's Soon - glide guitar, disorientating rhythm and ghostly atmosphere.

There's a lot of shoegaze revival (at least no one's using 'nu gaze' anymore) and most of it's pedestrian retreads of faded songs. Spiral XP, though, have stuck fireworks under old sounds and sent them into the stratosphere. Definitely ones to watch. My £5 says Sonic Cathedral are preparing an album deal for summer 2023.

Monday 20 February 2023

Dwaal Troupe - Lucky Dog

The Chicago wing of the Elephant 6 fan club? Maybe - they share Masters of the Hemisphere's skewed pop, Apples in Stereo's narcotic bliss and Elf Power's hazy hypnosis.

But there's also anti-folk friction here - think Kimya Dawson or Adam Green solo, rich psych desolation and romantic solitude. Dwaal is Afrikaans for "a dreamy, dazed, absent-minded, or befuddled state" (thanks, Google), so full marks for self-awareness and full marks also for the brass section.

Dwaal Troupe have an especially strong knack of writing tender ballads, revealing greater depths to the all-out pop assault and suggesting there's even better and brighter things to come.

Saturday 18 February 2023


The talk-singing reminds me of Sue Tompkins' (Life Without Buildings) antsy defiance, matched by fidgety post-punk guitars and taut sprung bass like the the first two Go-Betweens albums. You know all the other reference points - Talking Heads, The Fall and The Raincoats if you're old; Dry Cleaning, Black Country, New Road, and Display Homes if you're still paying off your student loan.

So others do it and others have done it, but Dancer are special. And not just because they rhyme "couple of glasses" with "catharsis" or have a song called Chris Whitty's Inner World. Don't ask me to explain their alchemy. Sometimes - rarely, that's the point - a band turns up, traps lightning in a jar and leaves you gaping.

All of Dancer are in other bands who you, being cooler than me, already know everything about. You'll surely agree, though, that they might just as well have a song called We're Better Than Other Bands And You Know It. They've given themselves the search engine-proof name Dancer with a self-titled release. No matter. I'm certain Domino and Rough Trade have their chequebooks open in the first round of a bidding war. Dancer are, after all, the best new band in Britain.