Thursday, 20 October 2011

My Sad Captains

Over the past few months I've begun to get really excited over a band that I'd thought I'd got over a couple of years ago. Recently, London's My Sad Captains have completely reinvented their style, dialling down the indiepop tunefulness that made up the majority of their 2009 debut, 'Here & Elsewhere'. That was the major characteristic that first brought the band to my attention, and it made that record one of my most anticipated debuts that year. When it came out, it provided me with a few months of listening pleasure, with some of the songs on it being genuinely brilliant, but I just kind of lost interest in them after a while. I didn't see them at all live in 2010, and when I saw them supporting Allo Darlin' at the Bull & Gate in May this year I was expecting them to be the same as ever. 

I first heard of MSC nearly three years ago, when they did a gig at the Lexington with the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and the Manhattan Love Suicides (and apparently Horowitz, who I've got into since but to be honest can't remember from that night). The Pains would release their debut album a few months later, and it was the first time I'd seen them live, despite having had their debut EP on pretty much constant rotation for a year or so. They were astoundingly good, as were the not-much-longer-for-this-world MLS. I hadn't really got into the latter band properly by that point, and didn't know many of the songs aside from the obvious 'Clusterfuck' and 'Extra Medication', but they have grown into one of my favourite of that line of bands, and I wish I'd focused on seeing them more when they were still around.

The real revelation of the night, however, were My Sad Captains. They were, back then, very much a Fortuna Pop! band, with a guy who looked like a cross between Stephen Merchant and Graham Coxon on guitar/vocals and a whole load of absolutely lovely little pop songs that jumped straight out at you. At that point, I wasn't really aware of the London indiepop scene to the extent I am now, but I was completely won over by their lovely tunes and the boy-girl harmonies on songs like All Hat And No Plans and Bad Decisions.

The next summer, they released their debut, and it was really enjoyable, but all felt slightly predictable. It wasn't really an album that I could get massively excited by. The best songs on the record were the ones that had been around for a long time before the album was released. They didn't even put on the upbeat single mix of Bad Decisions - and I'm not going to make any obvious jokes about that - and seemed to be caught between musical directions. It got some good reviews on release, but wasn't really anywhere when critics came to look back at the year, and they seemed to get overtaken in people's affections by various other Fortuna Pop! bands.

This year, I've seen them a few times, starting with that gig at the Bull & Gate, and each time they've blown me away with the atmosphere the new songs are able to create. The way they get stuck in a groove, which wouldn't get wearing even if they did a Sister Ray and stretched each song out to 20 minutes, is just spectacular, yet they still have the pure trebly tunes to be classed as a bona fide indiepop band.

A couple of the slow-burners on the debut album foreshadowed the direction they have taken since, especially You Talk All Night, still a staple of their live show. They have become probably the primary exponent of the genre that, in private, I call 'kraut-twee'. They really have gone above and beyond anything on their debut album with some of the songs they have released recently - there's not way you could have listened to any songs on that on repeat for an hour, as I have done with the only two new tracks to be properly released onto the web, 'The Homefront Part 2' and 'Orienteers'. The latter really is one of the best songs I've heard this year, but there are many others that I've only heard live that I'm expecting to be blown away by studio versions of.

The new album, 'Fight Less, Win More' is out on November 7th, quickly followed by a release party on the 9th. I can't wait.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Things We Lost In The Fire - Recommended PIAS Records

After the much-publicized burning of the PIAS warehouse a few days ago, many people have been doing their best to get behind the various labels and shops that could well be severely hit by a lack of cash flow. Despite the fact that (as far as I know) most of the labels will be covered under PIAS and Sony's insurance, the fact that the labels currently have nothing to sell, and might not get the money from the insurance for a month or two (or more) will cause the delay of many new releases and could even force some of the smaller labels out of business. To this end, various people are currently organising fundraising gigs and compilations. However, the best way to help is probably to buy records, be it digitally, mail order or in independent record shops. Here's my pick of some excellent records made by some of my favourite smaller labels hurt by the fire.

Sonic Cathedral

Sarabeth Tucek - Get Well Soon

Lovely singer-songwriter-y folk. There are, admittedly, a lot of albums like this released, but in my mind this has just the right blend between warm comfy guitar textures, Big Star-y power pop sensibilities and the occasional bit of rocking out. I probably prefer her debut, also available from the label, but this one shows more sign of crossing over into the mass market, something that Sonic Cathedral would definitely welcome.

Sad Day For Puppets - Pale Silver & Shiny Gold

After their debut, which was much more in the twee-pop vein, Sweden's Sad Day For Puppets turned in a second album that had much more of interest going on. There's a dash of girl groups, a dash of reverb-y shoegaze and a hefty amount of brilliant pop songwriting, this album should be high up your list. Fundamentally a pop record, with most influences obvious from first listen, it's brilliant fun, never descending into pastiche of the bands it clearly admires.

Angular Recording Company

This Many Boyfriends - Young Lovers Go Pop! 7"

Officially not released for another few days, this is the latest Angular release. I presume all the physical copies were lost in the rioting, but it's still well worth getting a hold of digitally. TMB first came to my attention with the excellent 'I Don't Like You ('Cos You Don't Like The Pastels)', a Tullycraft-style reference fest released on Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation, and I've loved everything they've released since. This song is typically shambly indiepop, and is featured on their SoundCloud.

Full Time Hobby

Tunng - Good Arrows

'Folktronica' gets a bad press, but some of this record is genuinely beautiful, and 'Bullets' was one of my favourite singles of 2007, a song that I've listened to a crazy amount and am still not really sure whether it's meant to be happy or sad. Tunng spent a long time recording this album, integrating some of the more electronic elements that were much less obvious in their previous albums, and the songs really benefit from the extra levels of detail. It's possible to see Tunng as the friendly, wholesome British equivalent of Animal Collective, and they deserve to be just as big.

One Little Indian Records

Asobi Seksu - Citrus

The oldest label on this list, and probably the most well-known album. This record has become a bit of a cult classic because of the way it managed to join the shoegaze of bands like Slowdive with the dreaminess and pop sensibility of bands like Rocketship, making for a lovely record that is full of not only brilliant tunes but also genuine feeling. There are also some genuinely heavy moments, a rarity for a dream-pop album like this.

Obviously, there were a lot of other labels affected. The full list is here. Go spending crazy!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Album Review: Vetiver - The Errant Charm

[Sub Pop/Bella Union, 2011]

Vetiver, a band based around the talkents of Andy Cabic, have been around for a while now, without really making all that much of an impression on the music scene around them - I was very surprised to learn this is their fifth record, as I have only heard snippets of a few songs by them in the past and had lumped them in with the new breed of sunshine-laced afternoon pop bands. It's not a disaster getting into them this late, though, as everyone seems pretty agreed that none of their records stray very far from the same basic formula. A few songs stand out - the wistful 'Right Away', the warm 'Worse For Wear'. Actually, any of these songs could be described as both 'wistful' and 'warm' - the album flows through this furrow for long periods with barely any surprises or even points of interest at all. Not until 'Wonder Why', more than half way through the album, do we get to anything that could get radio play. That isn't really to say the album is down-beat, though - barring the beginning and end, where Cabic seems to have placed his most contemplative songs, it really does get quite rocky at points.

There is a lot of very good, pretty varied pop songwriting on show here, and overally the album has an absolutely lovely feel to it. It's all very much of-its-type - a lot of the chord patterns and progressions are obviously very at home on an indiepop record, and there were quite a few points where I noticed big similarities to other bands in the genre (Aberfeldy being the main one, despite this record being much more laid-back and 'swoony' than anything the Edinburgh popsters have ever released). The melodies are pretty, and would make for an enjoyable afternoon in the sun, without ever coming close to imprinting themselves on your brain. Gently strummed jangly guitars, intricate yet discreet drumbeats and softly spoken vocals all seem to accompany each other for much of the album, without any one of them taking the lead, making for a beautiful record that unfortunately seems to melt into the background slightly too often.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Song Of The Day 24/06/1988: Sagittarius - My World Fell Down

It's my birthday! Therefore very little time to actually blog today. I'll just give you some classic 1960s chamber pop. It really is extremely similar to Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, without many ideas of it's own, but manages to pull off the lovely harmonies of Brian Wilson et al with aplomb.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Song Of The Day 23/06/2011: Make Up - You + I vs. the World

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Ian Svenonius, frontman of various bands including the Nation of Ulysses and previous subjects of a song of the day Chain and the Gang, is right about everything (check out his book "The Psychic Soviet"). He's also a great frontman and a good songwriter.
Today's song is from his post-NoU band Make Up's first album: although it's called "Live! at Cold Rice" it definitely isn't, although the recordnigs do have a lot of live energy.
This is my favourite track from the album, showcasing Make Up's "gospel ye-ye" to full and terrifying effect. A heavy groove with Svenonius' surrealist rock and roll evangelism on top. Great stuff.

Make Up - You + I vs the World

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Song Of The Day 23/06/2011: Codeine - Ides

Codeine were an early 90s slowcore band and, along with other slightly later acts such as Low and Red House Painters, helped to define the 'genre'. They were, however, much heavier than either of the other two bands mentioned. Instead of the same kind of sparse production as the rest of the scene, they had a slightly more experimental sound and a lot more energy. Their second (and better) LP features very basic instrumentation which is just left to echo through the record, as in this song. The album, released well after Slint released Spiderland and set the tone for this kind of thing, goes into almost post-rock territory in places, without ever building up to anywhere near the wall-of-sound levels of some of their contemporaries. The lyrics are incredibly despressing, with the line 'Can't watch the trees, can't go outside, don't go outside' pretty much summing the song (and band, and scene) up.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Song Of The Day 21/06/2011: Life Without Buildings - Pop Life

I've been posting a lot of interesting (to me, anyway) covers recently. This one is one of the weirder ones - it's Life Without Buildings, the early-00s Scottish indie rock band known for artist Sue Tompkins' delicately shouted vocals, covering Prince, all-round poser extraordinaire. It may be only for the die hard fans of either act (something to amuse them until the next Die Hard comes out - joke TM Richard Herring) but I love it.

Song Of The Day 20/06/2011: Pocketbooks - Footsteps

Indietracks today announced it's schedule, which means there really isn't very long to go until we all head off up to Nottinghamshire. I'm mostly relieved that all the bands I'm looking forward to seem to have managed to avoid each other (with the notable exception of Help Stamp Out Loneliness clashing with Math & Physics Club). The festival is fittingly going to be opened by Pocketbooks, a major part of the team that organise the festival. They didn't play last year, but have played every other indietracks and will fit back in seamlessly.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Song Of The Day 19/06/2011: Low - Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

Regular readers will be well aware of my infatuation with Low's most recent record, C'mon. It has inspired me to go back and listen to a lot more of their back catalogue than I ever have before. This gem of a cover version was tucked away on the third disc of their excellent B-sides & rarities compilation, 'A Lifetime of Temporary Relief'. I'm a big fan of the Smiths original, but I think this beats it both for feeling and, in the second half of the song, for raw power.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Song Of The Day 18/06/2011: The Black Keys - Midnight In Her Eyes

The Black Keys have pretty much exploded in the last year or so, with their latest record getting them a lot more mainstream airplay than they have ever received in the past. It's a good record, but it feels like they have completed the descent into just another uptempo rock band that began with the release of 'Magic Potion' a few years ago Their first 3 albums, from the debut 'The Big Come Up' to the truly excellent 'Rubber Factory', had something different - a bluesy dirtiness that made listening to a record feel like a binge on single malt.

This song, from 'Thickfreakness', is a perfect showcase of that. Basic but brilliant.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Song Of The Day 17/06/2011: Wye Oak - Civilian

I first came across Wye Oak a couple of years ago, when I saw them supporting Okkervil River in London. I don't remember all that much about the performance, beyond that they were pretty good and that I was impressed by the drummer drumming and playing keyboards at the same time.
Anyway, I heard them again when my good friend Rob recommended me their latest album, Civilian (of which today's song is obviously the title track). I listened, and really enjoyed it, so took him up on the offer of a free ticket to see them last night in Hoxton.
They were great, sort of dream-poppy with female vocals, a bit in the vein of two other Baltimore bands, Beach House and Lower Dens. I'm not sure the album's quite as good as the Lower Dens record from last year, maybe lacking quite the songwriting brilliance, but it is lovely and a grower, so give it a listen.

Wye Oak - Civilian

Song Of The Day 16/06/2011: The Band - King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

Revisiting a classic today, from an album I have listened to far too many times in the last 48 hours. This is the clasing track on The Band's eponymous second LP, the first where they reallt began to establish themselves as an act in their own right. Their debut had been drawn largely from the Basement Tapes, with many songs co-written by Dylan. The 'Big Pink' of the title had been the house in upstate New York that was home to the basement where the tapes were recorded.

On this album they tried to do something of their own. Despite being a largely Canadian band, they were pretty infatuated with the history and culture of the US, and this album is a concept album about the whole idea of America. This song is about a farmer who falls on hard times and is rescued by a 'man from the Union'. It's one of the best songs they ever wrote, in my opinion. Richard Manuel's voice is absolutely perfect for this kind of Americana.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Song Of The Day 15/06/2011: Sarabeth Tucek - State I Am In

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting from "Get Well Soon", Sarabeth Tucek's 2011 album. Perhaps some kind of quiet, introspective singer-songwriter-y fare of the kind which (to be honest) I usually find a bit boring. But it's much more interesting than that, especially in terms of the production. For a start, it's a much bigger-sounding record than I was expecting, with some adventurous instrumental touches (some subtle backwards guitar[?], some interesting modal-sounding bits) and extended guitar breaks - she's a really good guitar player. Oddly the record I think the production reminds me most of is Wilco's A Ghost is Born, but that could just be because it starts super quietly and then bursts into a big guitar solo. The production generally works really well, complementing her voice nicely.
And then there's the songs. It's a bleak record, but a very moving one. This is one of my favourites.

Sarabeth Tucek - State I Am In

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Song Of The Day 14/06/2011: Cryptacize - Tail & Mane

Cryptacize are the current project of ex-Deerhoof guitarist Chris Cohen. They join sunny Californian pop with an almost gypsy musical sensibility and the beautiful vocal hooks of Nedelle Torrisi, making a weird fusion unlike any other band at all. According to Sufjan Stevens,

"They make music that is refreshingly coherent, stewed with deliberate melodies, a refinement of instrumentation, no excess, nothing wasted, nothing lost … These songs are not trifles, but rather cryptic haiku poems that expand toward a vast cosmic significance.'

Very little of the massive amounts of quirky pop like this that has been released in the last few years actually has a beat that makes an impression. This does.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Song Of The Day 13/06/2011: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Steel Daughter

There's been a 'new' POBPAH song going around the internet today. 'Tomorrow Dies Today' is a Japan-only bonus track for their last album, 'Belong', and is a classic Pains-style light jangle-fuzz pop gem. I prefer another bonus track from the same Japanese edition, however - Steel Daughter has more of an edge, and a the beginnings of a singalong chorus like many songs from their debut. It feels slightly unfinished, which is probably why it was left off the final album, but it's still great.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Steel Daughter

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Song Of The Day 12/06/2011: Swirlies - Wrong Tube

Swirlies' debut album "Blonder Tongue Audio Baton", from which today's song is taken, came out in 1992, which probably accounts for the fact that it's often dismissed as being just MBV-copyism. Certainly, they play with quite similar sounds to Loveless and Isn't Anything, but I think they also do enough interesting things of their own to make it one of my favourite albums of the period. The songs are just as expansive as those on Loveless, but stripped of a few of the layers of noise, which reveals some top-notch guitar playing as well as sweet vocals. The songs are also full of ideas: they rarely stay the same for very long. As well as MBV there are definitely bits of Sonic Youth, Polvo and that kind of thing here, but the vocals always keep it within the heavy dream-pop/shoegaze realm.

This song's one of my favourites on the album, but, really, it's all worth checking out (as is the second album: I haven't heard any of the others). Listen to "Wait Forever", the last track on the album, for an amazing field recording secret track too!

"Every night, scream a little."

Swirlies - Wrong Tube

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Song Of The Day 11/06/2011: Best Coast - Gone Again

'Crazy For You', Best Coast's debut full length, is an incredibly annoying record in a lot of ways - the terrifyingly cloying and stalkerish lyrics , the massive overuse of the rhyme between 'crazy' and 'lazy', the whole of the first track - but I listened to it a lot last year on account of the pop hooks present all the way through. Although they've released a lot of collaborations since the album, this is the first proper release of a song that will probably be on the band's second record. It's all quite similar, to be honest. If you liked the first album, you'll like this, if you didn't, you won't. But the video is spectacular, and deserves a watch whatever your views on the band.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Song Of The Day 10/06/2011: Brave Irene - Bank Holiday

Rose Melberg is probably Amelia Fletcher's main rival to the title of 'most prolific person in indiepop'. Her newest project, Brave Irene, released a debut EP a couple of months ago (although, at 8 songs, I think it's probably more of a mini-album). It's exactly what you'd expect - sweet summery twee, with prominent keyboard parts and fuzzed-up guitars. The whole EP is really good, but this is probably my favourite song, with a lovely lilt that perfectly fits the feeling of a summer bank holiday spent lazing in the park.

One thing - I thought Bank Holidays were a purely British thing? I'm sure that isn't what Americans call them - Melberg was probably just looking for a bit of olde-worlde charm.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Song Of The Day 09/06/2011: Spare Snare - I'll Get By

Today's song comes from Scotland's 46th best band, Spare Snare. Well, I'd put them much higher but that's what they put on their promo materials anyway.
It's the first Spare Snare song I ever heard and it's an absolute corker, coming across like a Dundee version of Sebadoh at their catchiest best. Great stuff.

The Snare are very prolific, and (brilliantly) they've recently put all their stuff on Spotify, so there's lots to discover if you like lo-fi type stuff. The first few albums are more this sort of stuff, the more recent ones are usually a bit more sedate but still good. The album this is from, Animals and Me, is my favourite.

Spare Snare - I'll Get By

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Song Of The Day 08/06/2011: Mazzy Star - Blue Flower

In the last couple of days I've discovered It sells itself as the first member of the next generation of social music services, and I have to say it's pretty good. Basically in each 'room', which are normally guided towards a particular genre, there are 5 people who take it in turns to play songs for the others in the room. A very basic idea, but it manages to be remarkably addictive. You get 'DJ points' for playing popular things, and you can be skipped if you play stuff people don't like. The surprising thing about it is the high level of music taste in certain rooms - obviously there is a lot of crap, but when America wakes up there are normally a good few rooms playing the kind of thing I want to hear - the last 3 songs before I started to write this post were by the Vaselines, the Softies and Mazzy Star. At the moment it's only in the alpha stage, which means that it hasn't had a public release, but if you're Facebook friends with anyone who  has access (such as me) you are allowed to use it.

I remember the Mazzy Star track, Blue Flower, from a Jools Holland DVD I got a few years ago of mid-90s American alt.rock. I need to dig it out and have a re-watch I think. Although they were short-lived, they made at one brilliant album (1993's 'So Tonight That I Might See') and a couple of classic singles. It's all very fuzzy and 90s, and it's the kind of thing that is ripe for a rediscovery by the indie rock community in the way shoegaze and slowcore have been in the last couple of years.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Song Of The Day 07/06/2011: Fairport Convention - Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

Left it a bit late to blog today, so I'm not going to be able to do much more than a couple of sentences. I've decided that today, instead of posting something in any way new to me, I'll go back to one of my earliest musical memories. My parents were big fans of Fairport Convention, and I remember a lot of evenings back when I was young on which this song would be played at top, top volume directly below my room. This song, especially the bassline and Sandy Denny's spectacular vocals, will be forever imprinted on my psyche, along with a lot of the rest of the Fairport and Richard Thompson oeuvres. It could be a lot worse.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Song Of The Day 06/06/2011: Talulah Gosh - I Can't Get No Satisfaction (Thank God)

There's an excellent Radio 4 interview on the iPlayer at the moment (although you'll have to be quick) in which Alan Johnson interviews Amelia Fletcher about her double life as the lead singer of many of the best indiepop/twee bands of the last 25 years, which include Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap, coupled with her work as the chief economist of the Office of Fair Trading and, of course, raising a family. The whole series is worth a listen, with other subjects so far including Chris Spedding, one of the few people I can think of that played with a member of the Velvet Underground and the Wombles (not at the same time, unfortunately).

This is one of my favourite TG songs. It was later covered by Rose Melberg's outfit the Softies, but I prefer this version for its much punkier instrumentation.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Song Of The Day 05/06/2011: Electrelane - The Valleys

Today's song is from the album "The Power Out" by Electrelane, a band it took me a painfully long time to actually get around to listening to. I'm not sure why, since their mix of female vocals, krautrock grooves and experimentation is right up my street. They also have Ros Murray (who also plays in the ever-excellent bands Trash Kit and Ray Rumours) on bass. I finally listenined to them after they announced a reunion (or whatever it's called when a band stops being on hiatus) and I'm really glad I did.
This song's particularly good, and pretty much unique. I've never heard anything like the use of the choir here. I suppose one of the closest comparisons I can think of is some of Dirty Projectors' stuff, but really it's not like anything else. Great record, great band: hopefully I'll get a chance to see them soon.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Song Of The Day 04/06/2011: Red House Painters - Void

Old Ramon is probably my favourite Red House Painters record. It's not a widely held opinion - Mark Kozelek released many albums that have been both more critically and more commercially successful - but it was the first one I heard, and nothing else he's done has the sheer emotional power of the first 4 tracks. This is my favourite of the 4, a stunningly atmospheric song. I'm never quite sure what the mood of it is - on the surface, it feels extremely miserable, but none of the things he sings about seem to really matter to him.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Song Of The Day 03/06/2011: Low - Transmission

Tonight, after Belle and Sebastian on Monday, I'm seeing another of the small group of bands in my all time top 10 that I've never seen live. Low are playing the Barbican, a venue I haven't been to before (for a gig, anyway). I've been looking forward to it a lot, ever since I first heard their new album, C'mon, which is in my opinion the record of the year so far.

Today I've been chain-listening to their entire back catalogue, and have heard a couple of interesting tracks I haven't heard much before. One is this, their cover of Joy Division's classic 'Transmission', with its instantly recognisable bass intro slowed down to a fraction of the original. I really like this kind of cover, which is both unmistakeably the original song, yet could never have actually been produced by the original band. They even change the key of the vocals - the melodic interplay between the two vocal lines means the song isn't as immediate as the original, but rather gives a vague sense of queasiness rather than a full hit of unease.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Song Of The Day 02/06/2011: The Wendy Darlings - Suffer Girl

This post marks the beginning of my gradual lead-up to Indietracks. I've only just started investigating some of the bands on the bill I haven't heard of, and the sunny weather has really got me in the mood for some of the proper twee on offer. Indietracks is one of the best places there is for this kind of thing - if you haven't got a ticket yet, or indeed don't know what I'm talking about, make sure you make the effort to go (although I'm not sure why you'd be reading this blog if you had no idea what it was).

I love the vocals on this song, especially the backing whoops. I haven't investigated much of their stuff, but they have a couple of EPs up on Bandcamp to listen to. They're the perfect level of twee for me - sweet, but not sickly, with a slight edge in the rhythm section.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Song Of The Day 01/06/2011: Seapony - I Never Would

Yes, I know, I post a lot of this kind of thing. Blah blah blah, dreamy female fronted twee, summer, lovely, sunny, girls in pretty dresses, comparisons to many bands of the last year, etc. Don't just skip over this though - Seapony are so much better than the likes of Tennis and many other darlings of the blog community it is incredible. Their debut full-length has just been released on Hardly Art and, despite a distinct lack of a fourth chord, it is one of the most fun summer records so far this year.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Song Of The Day 31/05/2011: The Motifs - Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

Today's SOTD is a ridiculous indiepop cover of one of the most well-known American early punk songs. The original, on the Ramones' third record 'Rocket To Russia', is a classic, showing the Ramones' surf tendencies in a traditional rock'n'roll context. The Ramones were fundamentally a pop band, and this is very much a pop song, albeit harder and more spirited than much of the other stuff around at the time, so in theory this song was ripe for an indiepop cover.

This version is from a compilation of various modern indiepop bands covering Ramones songs, which is well worth a listen. Some of the bands turn the songs into wistful indiepop charm, like this one, while some bands branch out from their indiepop roots and try to rock out themselves. I don't know much about the Motifs, apart from the song they put on the first Hangover Lounge EP, but they sound like fairly standard Australian twee-pop. I'm not sure I could stomach a full album, but they're perfect for a single cutesy tongue-in-cheek cover.

The Motifs - Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

Monday, 30 May 2011

Song Of The Day 30/05/2011: Belle & Sebastian - Mayfly

Belle and Sebastian are a band I'd long given up seeing by the time they finally came out of hiatus last year and began playing live again. They're currently in the middle of a three-night residency at Camden's Roundhouse, and I'm going to be there tonight. I can't wait. I've had a look at some of the setlists from this tour so far, and they do seem to be fairly light on the early stuff, which is my favourite era, but it still has the potential to be a truly stellar gig. This song has only been played once in the 27 gigs the band has played so far in 2011, but I'll be crossing my fingers tonight.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Song Of The Day 29/05/2011: Young Marble Giants - Music For Evenings

Following on from yesterday's decidedly minimalist Eux Autres post, today's song is one of the most deliciously minimalist of all bands, Young Marble Giants. As we've established before, I absolutely love this kind of post-punk stuff, in that it's influenced by punk morals and the sense of freedom but the bands are trying to move away from the (mostly pretty boring) musical sensibilities of first wave punk. This stuff all still sounds so amazingly fresh. The YMG album, in particular, could easily have been released yesterday.

Anyway, YMG. Today's song is from their one proper album, Colossal Youth, and it's my favourite track. The most enchanting theing about them, I think, is how stripped-down the sound is, retaining only what's absolutely necessary for the song (usually a primitively circuit-bent drum machine, heavily muted guitar, and lovely naive-sounding vocals). The lyrics to this one nicely encapsulate the late-night atmosphere of the whole album. YMG are playing at All Tomorrow's Parties in December, so I'm finally going to get to see them. I'm pretty excited!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Song Of The Day 28/05/2011: Eux Autres - Other Girls

Eux Autres are a San Francisco three-piece indiepop band inspired by 1960s French pop of the kind I did a themed week about a while ago. This song is from their debut record, 2004's 'Hell Is Eux Autres', and is a belter.

Un jour dans la vie.. from Atelier on Vimeo.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Song Of The Day 27/05/2011: Allo Darlin' - Tallulah

Allo Darlin' are probably my favourite relatively new London indiepop band. Last summer, between the release of their debut album and Indietracks, I saw them a fairly crazy number of times and listened to them even more. Their uptempo songs, like 'Silver Dollars' and 'My Heart Is A Drummer', are some of the best around, and in a small venue are pretty much impossible to improve on, but this song, recorded after the release of their first album for a Hangover Lounge EP and intended for their upcoming second album, was probably the highlight of every set I saw them play that summer. An incredibly intimate ukulele ballad, it can reduce even the most hardened of middle-aged punks to a wistful jelly. I got into Allo Darlin, like quite a lot of people, through their seasonal classic 'Will You Please Spend New Years With Me?' and this song carries on a lot of the spirit and sound of that song, but improving on it in every way. The lyrics are touching and funny and reference the Go-Betweens, which is all you really want in a song, and the understated breathiness of the vocals leads to something that you really can't help but just get lost in and listen to again and again.

In my mind, this is the aural equivalent of something like Annie Hall, with a similar kind of feeling despite the differences in subject. Which is one of the highest bits of praise I've ever put on this blog, and is fully deserved.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Song Of The Day 26/05/2011: Dolly Mixture - How Come You're Such A Hit With The Boys, Jane?

I had fun at last week's Indie label market, and picked up some good stuff (Crystal Stilts/Comet Gain split 7", Butterflies of Love vinyl), but the Dolly Mixture "Everything and More" box set, released last year, was easily my best find. It's the first time their stuff's been reissued on CD I think, but it's difficult to see why.
They emerged in the post-punk boom of the turn of the eighties, one of my favourite periods for music. I suppose in that sense, and being an all-girl band, you can compare them to the Slits, Raincoats or Girls at Our Best! (all great bands), but what Dolly Mixture really make their own is the pop influences that some of those other bands tend to hide. This song, in particular, sounds like The Pastels meets the Shangri-Las.
The Dolly Mixture story, as told in the liner notes, is quite sad: they seem to have been victimised in the music press for some reason, and never really found the right label to support them properly, so they ended up never getting the acclaim they perhaps should have. Hopefully this box set'll correct that a bit. They're a really important band, very influential on the later indiepop we all love (I'm guessing Amelia Fletcher, for one, was a big fan).

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Song Of The Day 25/05/2011: Chain & The Gang - Deathbed Confession

I saw Chain & the Gang last night, and they were surprisingly good. On record, they aren't really anything particularly exciting, with most of their songs sounding fairly similar (this one, their best by far, is an exception). Indeed, I only really went to the gig because Grass Widow, one of my favourites of the current trend for all-female fuzzpop bands, were supporting. Grass Widow were great, as expected, but C&tG completely blew them out of the water. Ian Svenonius, of many bands including Nation Of Ulysses, really is one of the best frontmen I've ever seen, and the rhythm section, in their trademark prison garb, churned out astonishingly powerful, dirty rock'n'roll. The vocals were the real star - Svenonius treads the line between highly intellectual and highly ridiculous, but in a live setting pretty much everything he did seemed to come off well, with songs that really don't do anything on the record ('Detroit Music', 'What Is A Dollar?') going down surprisingly well. 'Deathbed Confession' was saved for the encore, and, despite impending last-tube deadlines, was stretched out to 20 minutes of mostly spoken word vocals over a repetitive riff. And it was brilliant - not only were the protagonists resposible for the killings of JFK, MLK and all the others on the record, but also for things like the spread of fast-food chains.

It might sound terrible. But it was ace.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Song Of The Day 24/05/2011: Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue (New York version)

Today is the last day of our Bob Dylan week, and (not wholly coincidentally) Bob Dylan's 70th birthday. Something special is needed - I can't really post just another random Dylan song from somewhere in his back catalogue, it has to be one of his very best songs. However, I have to continue on the no-official-studio-album-releases train. Therefore, the best unreleased (indeed, arguably the best full stop) version of one of my favourite Dylan songs.

Tangled Up In Blue is one of the most dissected works of Dylan's career, so I won't really bother to try and match up to other, better, critiques (like this one here). It's ostensibly a fairly basic story song, yet manages to fit a massive amount of imagery in. It feels like one of Dylan's broadest, grandest works, yet feels like it lasts a fraction of its 7-minute running time.

This version is a lot less instantly catchy than the original, with a lot less strident guitar and more of a focus on the voice. He's also played around with personal pronouns a lot, bending the narrative of the story considerably. It's just a lot more personal. It's a stupendous performance, but you can definitely tell why this recording was discarded for the more polished officially released version, which went on to be one of the best-known songs of his later career, attracting more people to the genius that is Blood On The Tracks than would have heard it otherwise. Oh well. Dylan never was the greatest self-editor. There were plenty of other things he could do that would make up for it.

Happy birthday, Bob!

Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue (New York version)

(one last thing - well done me. I got through a whole week of Dylan retrospection without using the phrase 'He was so much younger then'! I'm proud of myself.)

Monday, 23 May 2011

Song Of The Day 23/05/2011: Bob Dylan - Clothes Line Saga

Today's post in the Bob Dylan 70th birthday week extravaganza here on the Punch Table is from the fabled Basement Tapes. Dylan and The Hawks (his backing band on the '66 world tour, shortly to become The Band) holed up in Woodstock in 1966-7 and recorded loads of songs. Many were covers, but there are also a number of originals, in a very different style to the electric releases of '65-6.
This isn't one of the very best of the Basement Tapes songs, but it is a suitably enigmatic one: it raises lots of questions, and answers none of them. Its playful oddness is a good example of the feel of a lot of the Basement Tapes material, which is well worth checking out further.

Bob Dylan - Clothes Line Saga

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Song Of The Day 22/05/2011: Bob Dylan - I'll Keep It With Mine

I'll Keep It With Mine was a song Dylan originally recorded at the beginning of 1965. This version was done by Dylan solo, on the piano, and it is the one I have posted a link to below. Although this was around the time of the recording of Bringing It All Back Home, which, with it's acoustic side, would have made a good permanent home for it, it was given to the folk singer Judy Collins for her to record and release as a single. Dylan apparently wasn't satisfied with this recording, and consigned it to the bin for 20 years.

Dylan revisited the song a year later, though, during the recording of Blonde on Blonde, and recorded a full-band rocked-up version. It was rejected for the album, and the recording of that version is particularly bad quality - despite being officially released on the Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3, the song only starts half way through the first verse, and there is a loud interruption by the recording engineer half way through. It's a pity, because it's a song that would definitely work better as a full-band track, as other artists showed - as usual with Dylan songs, there are also a lot of fairly serviceable covers. The best, which are the Fairport Convention and Nico versions, are well worth a look.

Bob Dylan - I'll Keep It With Mine

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Song Of The Day 21/05/2011: Bob Dylan - Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?

Today's stop on our journey through Bob's Back Pages is the 1965 single "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?", one of his absolute best, bafflingly never put on record until Biograph. Self-sabotage is something of a theme of Dylan's career: he definitely has a habit of leaving some of his best material off records (as we have seen with some of the earlier posts of this week). In that sense he really doesn't help himself with regard to bootleggers: if all that there was was innumerable fragmentary jams, then people wouldn't buy them, but with songs this good, it's almost a public service (although of course this was out as a single).

Anyway, this is a belter: thin wild mercury Highway 61-period Dylan, cut with the Hawks, and featuring some great guitar playing from Robbie Robertson. Apparently there's a version with Mike Bloomfield out there somewhere, but I can't locate it at the moment.

Bob Dylan - Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?

Friday, 20 May 2011

Song Of The Day 20/05/2011: Bob Dylan - Lay Down Your Weary Tune

Continuing on this week's Bob Dylan birthday bonanza, here's a track originally recorded for Dylan's third album, 'The Times They Are A-Changin''. Very atypical of his protest song phase, which he was just then beginning to leave, it uses more vivid, unclear imagery than was normal for Dylan at the time. There is nothing remotely political about this song. Dylan wrote it all in one night at Joan Baez' house in the autumn of 1963, and then recorded it all in one take on October 24th. Having been left off the album for the track 'Restless Farewell', this original version circulated on bootlegs among collectors until its official release on Biograph, Dylan's career retrospective, in 1985.

As usual with a widely known Dylan song, many artists have covered it. The Byrds and Fairport Convention versions are probably my favourites, being not very far from the original but with a slightly more 'rocking' backing (and, in the Fairport case, Sandy Denny's lovely wailed backing vocals). Any other versions just don't really seem to work as well as the original, though - Dylan's voice really does give the song something extra.

(p.s. tomorrow is the Independent Label Market, where lots of independent record shops set up stalls selling their own wares (including some exclusive releases) on Berwick Street in Soho. See you there!)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Song Of The Day 19/05/2011: Bob Dylan - Talkin' John Birch Society Blues

Today's Dylan song is one of his best early talking blues (along with Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues), but one never released on an album. I suppose it's fairly topical, which might account for that, but it's a good piece of satire with some funny lines. It also caused something of a controversy back in 1963, when Dylan was supposed to perform it on Ed Sullivan's TV show. When CBS' lawyers told him he'd have to do a different song because of possible libel, he refused to perform and walked off the show. An interesting contrast with his recent tour of China, perhaps.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Song Of The Day 18/05/2011: Bob Dylan - I Was Young When I Left Home

On Tuesday, Bob Dylan is going to celebrate his 70th birthday. What better excuse could there be for the next Punch Table themed week?

Despite having released 34 studio albums, as well as many live albums and compilations, his officially recorded and released material tells nowhere near the full story. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of commercially released bootlegs available around the world, documenting live shows and studio outtakes from throughout his 50-year career. For the next 7 days, all the SOTDs will be taken from Dylan bootlegs, and I'll throw in a bit of extra information about that period in Dylan's career. There is so much to get through that I don't think we'll get much beyond the first part of his career, but that will leave us plenty of material of future Dylan features! I wouldn't necessarily recommend these tracks as the best way into Dylan if you've not really heard much before. Before you listen to any of these, you should probably make sure you've listened to 'Blonde on Blonde', 'Blood On The Tracks' and 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' - between them, these albums cover most of the important directions Dylan's music headed in over the first (and best) 15 years of his career.

The first song featured is from the very early stages of Dylan's career. Originally from Duluth, Minnesota, Dylan move to New York in 1961 to learn his trade from the variety of folk musicians that then inhabited the cafes of Greenwich Village, most notable among them the invalid Woody Guthrie, who Dylan had idolised ever since his days in high school rock'n'roll bands. Playing mostly covers of old folk and blues standards, his style quickly evolved over the course of the year between his arrival there and the release of his debut album in March 1962. By the time it was released, 6 months after the recordings had been completed, he was effectively a completely different person to that captured on the record. A bootleg recorded in a Minnesota hotel room that I reviewed a few months ago contains some the best performances I have heard by Dylan from this period. I have chosen 'I Was Young When I Left Home' to represent this early stage, both due to the apt title and because it was exactly what Dylan was about at this stage of his career - a lovely fingerpicked folk song, adapted from the traditional '900 Miles', a favourite of Woody Guthrie.

Bob Dylan - I Was Young When I Left Home

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Song Of The Day 17/05/2011: Thurston Moore - Circulation

It would be hard not to liken Thurston Moore's new Beck-produced record to 'Sea Change', Hansen's own acoustic departure from his more traditional sound. Within a few seconds of the opening track, you get something that you'd have to search very hard for on any of his previous releases - violin. The only instruments here are Thurston's guitar, the violin and a harp.

Moore has changed the face of the heavier, more experimental end of popular music completely over the last 30 years (and has released a frankly ridiculous number of records with Sonic Youth, solo and with various side projects) but he hasn't, to my knowledge, released anything remotely down the furrow ploughed by this record. There are no screwdrivers anywhere near guitars around here. Despite the odd song (most notably 'Orchard Street') clearly showing what I think of as the 'classic' Sonic Youth chord patterns, angrily propelled forward by minor chords moving in chromatic steps, this doesn't really sound like Thurston Moore. It's very middle-aged, in a way, but even a 52-year-old Moore has more energy and fire than many of the 19-year-olds currently filling the O2 Arena and whatnot.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Song Of The Day 16/05/2011: Jupiter Sun - Violet Intertwine

I first came across Jupiter Sun on the excellent 1994 Slumberland compilation 'Why Popstars Can't Dance' (which is well worth a purchase if you ever see it on sale - I'm pretty sure it's well out of print, but there were a couple of copies in the Notting Hill Music & Video Exchange last time I was in there). They're very distinctively a Slumberland band, but have a slight rocky edge to some of their songs that is all too infrequent in releases by the label. Some of their less indiepop stuff even verges on American Football-esque twinkle. They inhabit the territory somewhere between Rocketship and Palaxy Tracks, which is a very nice place to be. A few too many guitar solos and a slight lack of much rhythmic diversity between songs stop the record this song is taken from, 'Atmosphere', being a truly stellar release, but there are some absolute corkers on it.

This song, however, isn't very much like anything else on the record. It sounds straight out of the late 1980s - very indiepop, but with a guitar part that sounds almost Stone Roses-y. Terrible title, but we can forgive it that.

Jupiter Sun - Violet Intertwine

Song Of The Day 15/05/2011: The Vaselines - Son of a Gun

Today's song is indiepop heroes The Vaselines. This is probably their most popular song, but I don't care. It's just brilliant, sing-song dual vocals with a stupidly catchy melody. They've been so influential (not least through a certain indiepop fan by the name of Kurt Cobain), and reformed a couple of years ago after a long hiatus, but the first couple of EPs are still the best I think.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Song Of The Day 14/05/2011: Help Stamp Out Loneliness - The Ghost With A Hammer In His Hand

I've been waiting for the release of HSOL's debut album for what seems like an age. Ever since I first became aware of them back at Indietracks 2009, I've had to survive on a disc of 5 demos and very little else. They have gradualy been leaking songs for most of the year, but the album was only finally released this week. It's even better than I expected. Unlike a lot of their contemporaries, they have managing to draw the warped, synthy indiepop of their early songs to a full album that never feels tired or stale. Despite some of their songs being among my most-played of the last few years, the old ones are nowhere near their best songs - The opener (Cottonopolis + Promises) and the closer (Split Infintives) are two of the best indiepop songs I've heard this year, only bettered by my favourite on the album, 'The Ghost With A Hammer In His Hand'.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Song Of The Day 13/05/2011: Veronica Falls - Right Side of My Brain

Due to blogger being down for most of the day today I only have about ten minutes to post today's pick before we accidentally miss a day (disaster). So here's a quick one.
Punchtable favourites Veronica Falls have apparently finished their debut record, but it's currently without a label, although when I asked them they said that it'll hopefully be out by the end of the summer. Here's hoping! This is their most recent release, which you can download if you join their mailing list, and it's a belter. It's very much staying within the sound they've carved out for themselves, referential(/reverential) indiepop vibes but with a certain darkness which sets them apart from the C86 revival masses.

If it's all this good, it'll easily be one of the albums of the year.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Song Of The Day 12/05/2011: Quasi - Our Happiness is Guaranteed

I relistened to Quasi's "Featuring "Birds"" the other day for the first time in a long while, and I was blown over by how good it was. I remembered it being good, but it's great, a perfect mix of chirpy indiepop melodies, nice thick guitar and keys instrumentation, and ultra-bleak lyrics. They toured for a bit as Elliot Smith's backing band, and there are aspects of that kind of sound in there, but there are also traces of the Pacific Northwest type of indie rock bands like Built to Spill (Sam Coomes can really play guitar, although he doesn't let loose that often).

This is one of the less gloomy songs on the record (which contains such bubblegum classics as "You Fucked Yourself" and "I Give Up"), imagining a futuristic society where we all live in bubbles under the sea, isolated from all emotion. Sort of like that bit in Star Wars: Episode 1 I suppose. Anyway, killer melody! This is how Northwestern indiepop is meant to sound.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Song Of The Day 11/05/2011: Cat's Eyes - I Knew It Was Over

Cat's Eyes are a side project by Faris Badwan of the Horrors, a band I've never quite made up my mind on. The popular story is that their first album was hipster-by-numbers dirge, but their second record caught everyone (including the music press) by surprise by being genuinely good. I liked the second record, but didn't put it up in the pantheon that some people did - it didn't really have anything to set it apart from the many, many shoegaze revivalist bands around back in 2009.

I much prefer this new band, a duo of Badwan and classically-trained multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira. Through Zeffira's classical contacts, they were able to get a completely unique venue for their debut performance. The video below is from the 'gig', where they played a couple of songs in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. This song really fills the spectacular acoustics, making for an experience that does feel almost religious. It would be better if it had slightly more interesting lyrics, but hey ho.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Song Of The Day 10/05/2011: Kurt Vile - Ocean City

Today's song is some of the solo material of Kurt Vile. He released a new album pretty recently, which I've heard good things about, but this is the first track from his EP of last year, Square Shells.
Kurt Vile used to be in the War on Drugs, and this song's emblematic of the kind of stylistic variation that they used to trade in. It starts as a back-porch stones strum, and then gets a bit electronic at the end, sort of like a more earthy version of Woods. It's a pretty good guide to the style of the rest of the EP, which flirts with drone and ambient type soundscapes while remaining pretty grounded in folky rock. Pretty good.
He's doing an instore at Rough Trade East next Thursday, should be pretty fun (I guess this also means he's doing some proper gigs around then too). Also Kurt Vile's supporting Woods at Scala in about October, which is looking like one of my most anticipated shows of the year.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Song Of The Day 09/05/2011: Yuck - Operation

I wrote about Yuck's debut album back in January and gave it a very good review, saying that their blend of various obvious 1980s influences managed to capture a lot of the fire of the original, whilst not feeling completely derivative. The album has grown old more slowly and gracefully than I expected, and now, 4 months later, I still regard it as one of the best releases this year. This song is one of the best songs on the album - it is basically Yuck's take on Teenage Riot. The video is fairly bad quality - I recommend sourcing the album somewhere (legally, of course) to get the full effect.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Song Of The Day 08/05/2011: My Bloody Valentine - Drive It All Over Me

Like most people, I'd imagine, I got into MBV through Loveless. It's difficult to avoid, being such a revolutionary, unique, and just plain brilliant record that it would overshadow the career of pretty much any band. For a while that was all the MBV I listened to. But eventually I found and listened to first their other album, Isn't Anything, and then the earlier EPs.
This song is from my favourite of those, "You Made Me Realise", which I probably like just as much as Loveless, although in a different way. Instead of the walls of Kevin Shields' guitar and dreamy vocals, this is more down-to-earth. The noise is still there, but at this stage it's still subservient to the songs. The vocals are mixed higher and the lyrics are much more understandable. And MBV, when they tried, could really write a melody.

I could have chosen anything from the EP really but this one's lovely, sweet pop melody with classic fuzz guitar backing. Pretty much perfection.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Song Of The Day 07/05/2011: Friends - You'll Never See That Summertime Again

Another late 80s indiepop band, Friends made (and still make) Smiths-y guitar jangle of the highest order. There isn't really much more to say about them than that.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Song Of The Day 06/05/2011: Frightened Rabbit - Good Arms vs. Bad Arms

Frightened Rabbit have come from nowhere to be one of the most respected indie bands around at the moment. When this album was first released, it barely seemed to register - it gathered a large amount of critical praise, both at the time and on various end-of-year lists, but hardly anyone seemed to have actually heard it. Gradually, and especially since the release of their newest record, people seem to have been re-investigating their back catalogue and realising that it is a real classic of the new millennium. This is my favourite song on the record - it wasn't released as a single, but it really should have been, with the kind of driving rhythms and emotive-but-not-overdone lyrics that are perfect for dragging in the casual listener and converting them to the band.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Song Of The Day 05/05/2011: The Dentists - I Had An Excellent Dream

The Dentists were one of the more long-lived of the original C86 bands, staying around until the mid-90s and even signing a deal with a major label nearly 10 years after the compilation was first released. This song is from their first album, "Some People are on the Pitch They Think It's All Over It Is Now". It has a markedly different sound to a lot of the standard British indiepop from around that time, having more in common with American 60s garage rock. I love it.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Song Of The Day 04/05/2011: Times New Viking - Fuck Her Tears

Todays SotD is the first single from the new Times New Viking record, Dancer Equired! It's a couple of minutes of rattly, noisy goodness very much in the TNV mould. They've been doing this ultra lo-fi noise pop stuff longer than pretty much everyone else around at the moment (with the possible exception of Psychedelic Horseshit) and yet they still keep churning out singalong classics like this. The rest of the new record I found a little disappointing, except for a few tracks, but this is great.

I saw TNV last night (supported by Punch Table favourites Veronica Falls, who played a few new great-sounding songs) and they were good as usual. They must have played about twenty songs in thirty-five high-energy minutes, including most of the new album plus some old favourites like "(my head)" and "Teenage Lust". They tried to play this song last, and got about 30 seconds in, until the guitar player broke a string. He threw down his guitar in disgust, ran offstage, picked up another, played four bars or so then broke two more strings. They abandoned the song in the end, a suitably shambolic end to a fun show.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Song Of The Day 03/05/2011: Math And Physics Club - We're So DIY!

Math & Physics club are one of the smaller headliners for Indietracks this year. They haven't played there before, but they are a quintessentially Indietracks-y band, the current standard bearers of the frenetic Tullycraft-style American indiepop. Following the 'write about what you know' maxim also used to great effect last year by Allo Darlin', this song is about the trials of forming an indiepop band. The video's great too.

'I've got my casiotone, we can do it on our own!'

Monday, 2 May 2011

Song Of The Day 02/05/2011: Nick Drake - From The Morning

Nick Drake was, along with Richard Thompson, one of the most influential British songwriters of the 60s folk revival, and was one of the first stereotypical troubled folk troubadours. His career was very short, as he died when he was only 26, but he could have been one of the greats - his albums got gradually better, and his last, 1972's 'Pink Moon', is one of my all-time most played records. This is one of the best songs from that album, 'From The Morning', and it's great.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Song Of The Day 01/05/2011: Grass Widow - Tuesday

Today's song comes from one of my favourite records of last year, Grass Widow's second album, Past Time. On the surface of it, in mixing minimalist pop backings with female vocals, Grass Widow aren't doing anything particularly radical, but it's in their songwriting and singing that they really shine. The harmonies especially are wonderful, vocal lines overlapping and colliding like a crazed version of the Raincoats. The Raincoats are actually a pretty good touchstone for Grass Widow's sound as a whole, and I genuinely think the two albums stand up to that kind of comparison. Really clever and catchy.
This is my favourite song on the album, off-kilter vocals running into each other over the top of some frantic instrumentation. But, really, everything on the album's good and the songs are all really short (so even if you don't like one, another'll be along soon). The first record is fun too, with some nice trumpet parts that seem to have disappeared from the second, but Grass Widow seems to be one band that the cleaner production of a bigger label (Kill Rock Stars) and perhaps more time in the studio seem to have really helped.

Also, they're playing in London in a few weeks supporting another band I really like, current Ian Svenonius (ex-Nation of Ulysses etc. etc.) project Chain and the Gang. Killer lineup, right? Should be an excellent gig. See you there.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Song Of The Day 30/04/2011: The Besnard Lakes - Albatross

There are many, many bands who have released songs called 'Albatross', from Fleetwood Mac to Wild Beasts, but this one is definitely my favourite. The best track on their most recent album, it showcases everything I love about the band - the soaring dual vocals and the slow post-rocky builds that manage not to feel out of place in a 5 minute pop song. I saw them live just after the release of this record and it was brilliant - I can't wait for them to either release a new album or do another tour of the UK.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Song Of The Day 29/04/2011: Dirty Projectors - Police Story

In honour of events in Whitehall, today's post was originally going to be anti-establishment classic Police Story by Black Flag, until I decided that the blog isn't quite ready for me to be posting Black Flag as the song of the day. So here's the Dirty Projectors version of the song instead.
The Dirty Projectors' album Rise Above apparently came about after songwriter/arranger Dave Longstreth was thinking about the Black Flag album Damaged, and hit upon the idea of recording his own tribute to the album. It's an interesting listen, bearing almost no resemblance to the original, so it's more of a reimagining than a cover album.
The original of this is one of the greatest hardcore songs there is, but I think this version's interesting too. The bizarre vocal gymnastics put a strangely surreal new spin on the Black Flag story.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Song Of The Day 28/04/2011: Belle & Sebastian - Another Sunny Day

Belle & Sebastian's 2005 album 'The Life Pursuit' isn't vintage B&S. A lot of the songs are fairly throwaway pop, and some (particularly on the second half of the album) are genuinely bad. There is one song on there, however, that is among the best things the band has ever done, that is 'Another Sunny Day'. Here it is, coupled with a pretty good animation I found on YouTube - it fits the song perfectly.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Song Of The Day 27/04/2011: Ace Bushy Striptease - Let Us Sit Quietly and Listen to Pop Punk

Today's song of the day comes from the great Ace Bushy Striptease. To be honest they're one of the bands I've first checked out in the wake of them being announced for Indietracks, but I've really enjoyed what I've heard.
They aren't really a typical Indietracks band, if such a thing exists, as they don't really fit any of the stereotypes that might suggest. They do play with elements of the indiepop sound (in the naive-sounding boy-girl vocals especially) but they also touch upon noisy pop-punk and occasionally twinkly-sounding guitars + shouting that isn't (whisper it) too far from something Kinsella-y. Their songs are really hyperactive; as soon as they get settled into a verse they're done with it and move onto something else.
This is one of the best songs I've heard of theirs, the title presumably playing on CSS' "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above". This is much better though, and says far infinitely more to me about my life than that does. And if there's one thing that indiepop and pop-punk share in their ethos then it's surely that. It's nicely tongue-in-cheek too (I love the vocal breakdown in the middle).

I'm looking forward to seeing them tear the roof off the church (I guess that's probably where they're playing) come July.

It's not on YouTube or whatever, but download all their stuff (including this song) at their website (cheers guys)!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Song Of The Day 26/04/2011: Magic Shoppe - Something's Wrong

Magic Shoppe are a Boston band that play classic psychedelia tinged Nuggets-y garage rock. They include bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre and BRMC among their influences, but I think their record is, on the whole, much more tuneful than anything by either of those bands.

Last year's 'Reverb EP' was one of my favourite completely out-of-the-blue unknown records of last year, and they've just expanded it to a full album, their debut, which was released last week. The whole thing is streamable on their record company's SoundCloud, and I have embedded my favourite track below.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Song Of The Day 25/04/2011: The Hidden Cameras - Mississauga Goddamn

Another short blog today. Blame both the Bank Holiday and the weather - I don't really want to stay on the computer too long, so I can get back to lazing in the sun with this record.

This is the title track on my favourite Hidden Cameras album. I had barely heard anything by them until they were announced as headliners for this year's Indietracks, but now I have them on heavy rotation and can't wait for their set, which could well be as perfect for Indietracks as their album is for today's spectacular weather.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Song Of The Day 24/04/2011: The Lovely Eggs - Have You Even Heard A Digital Accordion?

Happy Easter! What more apt band could there be for today that the Lovely Eggs?

This is a ludicrous song. That's all I can really say about it - you're going to have to listen yourself.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Song Of The Day 23/04/2011: Life Without Buildings - Sorrow

Not much time to do a blog today, so I'll just post one of the best tracks from one of the best albums of the last decade. Sue Tompkins has one of the most distinctive voices I've ever heard, and it's a massive shame the band only released one studio album before she retired from the music business and returned to her previous life as an acclaimed artist.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Song Of The Day 22/04/2011: Best Coast - When I'm With You

Best Coast are a fairly divisive band. Some people though their debut was one of the best releases of last year, some thought they had nothing going for them at all. I'm firmly in the former camp - I have listened to 'Crazy For You' a frankly ludicrous number of times in the last year, and still find it pretty much perfect at what it tries to do. This is the bonus track on some UK editions of the album, their earlier single 'When I'm With You'. It may be cliched, and may have been massively overplayed on TV programs and even adverts over the last year, but I love it.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Song Of The Day 21/04/2011: Yo la Tengo - Little Honda

It's a lovely day outside, and while I was walking home earlier down Camden High Street I just couldn't get this out of my head. It's a brilliant summer song, a cover of the Beach Boys but sounding more like a Jesus & Mary Chain B-side. But it's probably more tuneful than anything the Mary Chain ever put out. Also, dig that one-note solo and the amazing fuzz guitar tone. But you can't say that much about this kind of song really. Three chords and exhilaration.

Yo la Tengo - Little Honda

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Song Of The Day 20/04/2011: The Rain Parade - You Are My Friend

Todays SotD is some premium psych revival from LA's The Rain Parade. Part of the Paisley Underground scene that spawned the excellent Dream Syndicate (the Steve Wynn version, not the John Cale/La Monte Young drone band), Mazzy Star and the Bangles (on whom see this, right now, assuming you like indiepop), the Rain Parade put out a couple of proper albums as well as various live/outtakes collections. This song's about my favourite by them and appears on their Explosions in the Glass Palace EP: it was also a single. The EP was tacked onto the end of their first album when it was reissued so you can get it there.

Anyway, I think this is really good. Jangly psychedelia with some nice guitar playing too. I often think the Paisley Underground scene doesn't get enough credit for the influence it had on later US indie, probably because it didn't really have the whole concept of "independent" labels (it all happened before independents were much of a going concern). Anyway, it's not too far from this kind of thing to something like Green on Red.

The Rain Parade - You Are My Friend

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Song Of The Day 19/04/2011: Wive - Lazarvs And Dives

Wive's brilliant debut album 'Pvll' made number 3 in my 'Best Albums of 2010' countdown, and in retrospect I wish I'd put it higher - it is a forward-thinking, original album that remains absolutely beautiful. This song is the centrepiece, using sampled vinyl cracks and pops as percussion on which piano and a plaintive violin play hypnotically. 'Hypnotic' is actually probably as good a word as any to use for the track, although 'haunting' and even 'empowering' would also work. None of these really get to the root of what makes it great, though. Have a listen below (although not on laptop speakers or whatever - this record is the absolute definition of a 'headphones album').

Monday, 18 April 2011

Song Of The Day 18/04/2011: Daniel Johnston - Some Things Last A Long Time

A couple of days ago I watched The Devil & Daniel Johnston again. I'm still not sure about the word 'genius' being applied to him, but he definitely has a rawness and a power that few other songwriters can hope to match. The song that closes the film, 'Some Things Last A Long Time', is a great example. The quivering of Johnston's voice and the straightforwardness of the lyrics heighten the sheer emotion of the song to levels that make it impossible for your heart not to bleed for him.

If you haven't seen it, definitely give 'The Devil & Daniel Johnston" a watch. Even if you don't like his music, it's an incredibly revealing and respectful look at someone who has never quite managed to overcome whatever mental problems he has, but has still managed to create a global cult following. Check out the Beach House cover version of this song, too (on "Devotion") - I think it's my favourite of the many interpretations of Johnston's songs that have been recorded in the last 30 years.

Daniel Johnston - Some Things Last A Long Time

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Song Of The Day 17/04/2011: Another Sunny Day - I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist

Here's another indiepop classic for you. Harvey Williams played with various bands in the late 80s and early 90s including the Field Mice and the Hit Parade, as well as releasing solo recordings under the name 'Another Sunny Day'. These bands were part of the Sarah roster, like Friday's Song Of The Day artist St. Christopher, and have a similar style. In my opinion Another Sunny Day's stuff has aged far better than many of his contemporaries. His complete recordings are available on 'London Weekend', a very hard-to-find album that contains some of the best singles ever released on Sarah. 'Anorak City' and 'You Shall All Be Murdered' are more famous, but my favourite is definitely this one, 'I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist'. It's short length and the quintessentially Sarah sentiments don't detract at all from what is possibly the pinnacle of the Sarah era.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Song Of The Day 16/04/2011: Help Stamp Out Loneliness - Record Shop

Today is Record Store Day. Thousands of people (including me) are descending on independent record shops around the world, with many bands releasing exclusive 7"s and EPs to mark the occasion. There's a lot of talk on Twitter about how many of the shops that struggle for business for much of the year have queues around the block - this yearly event is clearly a very good thing for underground music of all types.

In the words of this excellent HSOL song, 'stroll on down to the record shop, come on'.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Song Of The Day 15/04/2011: St. Christopher - You Deserve More Than A Maybe

St. Christopher were a very stereotypical Sarah Records band. Hailing from York, they first surfaced in the late 80s and went on to release a surprising number of records, initially on Sarah and later on a variety of other indie labels. This song was the biggest 'hit' they ever had, perfectly encapsulating the jangly sense of frustration that so many bands around that time tried to get across. It never really settles properly - there is something about it that makes it sound almost eerie, and that sets it apart from the rest of the stuff Sarah put out, which can get a bit samey if you listen to too much of it in one go.

St. Christopher - You Deserve More Than A Maybe

Album Review: Low - C'mon

[Sub Pop, 2011]

Low have been around for a very long time. One of the first bands to break out from the slowcore subgenre in the early 1990s, they have since made 8 albums that have followed roughly the same blueprint - beautiful downtempo hymn-like backing instrumentation covered in layers of some of the best vocal harmonies I've ever heard. Their music incorporates and almost post-rock feel and lays it over conventional song structures. Despite the fact that they have essentially remained the same for 20 years, with only brief flirtations with faster stuff or with electronica on more recent albums, they have managed to completely avoid sounding tired or bereft of ideas in any way, mainly in my opinion because so few other bands are able to do what they do with anywhere near the same levels of success. There are a good few albums by them I'd class as genuinely brilliant, with the pick of the bunch being 2001's 'Things We Lost In The Fire', one of the best records of the last decade. They've only released one album since 2005, however, and even that was a bit of a mis-step for them. From the opening bars of 'Try To Sleep' it is obvious they've re-evaluated what made them good in the first place, and are fully back on song - husband-and-wife vocalists Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker soar together over a lovely twinkly glockenspiel backing with an intimacy that Low have rarely achieved since the release of 'Dinosaur Act' a decade ago.

The first half of the album is slightly quicker, slightly more rocky, than I expected from Low. It contains all the more radio-friendly songs, like 'Try To Sleep' and 'Witches', about Sparhawk's childhood fear of witches and, bizarrely, people who act like Al Green. The lyrics are harrowing, even without the stark instrumentation;

"One night I got up and told my father there were witches in my room
He gave me a baseball bat and said here's what you do
When you have finally submitted to embarrassing capture
Take out that baseball bat and show those witches some pasture"

The second side is what really makes the record. '$20' pushes the emotions slightly over-the-top, milking everything it possibly can from the vocals, but it still works well, and then Majesty/Magic and Nightingale push the builds and dynamics more to the fore, with the album finally reaching a climax in the second half of the epic 'Nothing But Heart' before a gradual build-down into the final track, the almost poppy (compared to the rest of Low's stuff, anyway) 'Something's Turning Over'.

The album feels incredibly inviting, despite the desperate feel, with everything from the title right through to the last track feeling like it is directly addressing the listener. Sparhawk described the album as a kind of tool for companionship in desperate circumstances - "I'm looking in your eyes right now, and we need to figure out how to get through the next moment, together, as human beings". To me, this feels like 'Things We Lost In The Fire' has matured, growing old gracefully. There is a lot less of the straight despair of that record, with it converted into a vague sense of unease that is occasionally dwarfed by overwhelming sadness (the height of this definitely coming in '$20'). I'd say this is my favourite Low album of the last decade, and my favourite downtempo album to be released by anyone in the last couple of years. It might even be the record that tips them from being a cult band to something approaching mainstream success.

Teaser for new Bon Iver album

Bon Iver's 2008 debut, "For Emma, Forever Ago" was an absolutely brilliant record - just ask pretty much anyone. For his new album, to be released in June, Justin Vernon has hired some additional musicians to flesh out his sound, continuing the pattern from the good-but-slightly-underwhelming Blood Bank EP. Apparently, every song on the album is written about a location, and every song has a different style - the song 'Perth' is going to be a "civil war-sounding heavy metal song", 'Minnesota Wisconsin' will feature "finger-picking guitars, double bass drums and distorted bass saxophone" and 'Beth/Rest' will be "horn heavy". That all said, the 51-second snippet posted on his website shows that he still has his signature sound, so we don't need to worry to much.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Song Of The Day 14/04/2011: Damon & Naomi - Eulogy To Lenny Bruce

In 2000, Damon & Naomi (ex-Galaxie 500, one of the best of the first wave of Slowcore bands in the late 80s) released a joint album with the Japanese psychedelic band Ghost, on which this was the last track. This version of the song, originally by Tim Hardin, is clearly modelled on Nico's version, which was used as a brilliant closer to her debut album, 'Chelsea Girl'. The song was apparently chosen as a cover by Ghost rather than the band themselves, along with Alex Chilton's harrowing 'Blue Moon', but works extremely well when put through the filter of their distinctive sound. 

The rest of the album, and indeed everything I've heard by D&N, is really good, carrying on the spirit of their previous band across more releases than they probably ever thought possible.

(note - I'm going to stop doing Spotify links and start doing more mp3s/Soundclouds/Bandcamps due to the fact that, as of May 1st, Spotify will be putting heavy limits on what they let people listen to for free. To be honest I don't blame them, I've got an awful lot of use out of their free accounts over the years, but it'll just make some songs slightly more awkward to link to. Oh well)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Song Of The Day 13/04/2011: Smith Westerns - Dance Away

I saw the Smith Westerns live at Cargo on Monday night. It was a really good gig, reinforcing my opinion of their second album, 'Dye It Blonde' - it really has got some absolutely amazing songs on, although I'm not sure how long-lasting it will be. For the moment, though, it's in heavy rotation on my stereo. This song was actually one of the few songs on the album not to be played, but is probably my favourite, with a barnstorming slightly syncopated chorus and joyful, driving guitar part. It's a good marker of what the band are currently capable of, and is a great introduction to what they're about.

The gig was slightly odd - there was very little actual music played. Only one support band (perennial support act to American indie bands in London, the fine-but-distinctly-unexciting Spectrals) and a short set with no encore - the gig was done and dusted well before 10pm, with no real explanation. The crowd was incredibly vocal and enthusiastic between songs, but barely moved a muscle during the actual music - surprising for a band that, on record, have as much energy as Titus Andronicus, who give some of the most physical gigs I've ever been to.

Smith Westerns - Dance Away

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Song Of The Day 12/04/2011: Paper Moon - Your Thesaurus Won't Help You Now

Here's some fairly upbeat indiepop to get us back on track after a very atypical couple of choices in the last couple of days. Paper Moon are a band from Winnipeg who have been active for about 10 years now. This song was on their debut album, 2001's 'One Thousand Reasons To Stay, One Reason To Leave', but I found it as one of the tracks released on Low Transit Industries' excellent 7" Club compilation. Very twee yet also pretty rocking at the same time, it really is excellent. They've got one complete album on Spotify (the other one under the name Paper Moon doesn't seem to be by) that is well worth a listen.

Paper Moon – Your Thesaurus Won't Help You Now

Monday, 11 April 2011

Song Of The Day 11/04/2011: Hop Along - Sally

Following on from yesterday's p.s. eliot post: a few days ago I was checking out some of the other stuff on Salinas, and I stumbled upon the band Hop Along. Apparently Frances, the singer and songwriter, used to play solo as "Hop Along, Queen Ansleis", but now she works in a full-band setup with a drummer and second guitarist.

Anyway so Hop Along as full band have only released one 10" EP (three tracks in twenty minutes) but it's really good. The kind of idiosyncratic vocal delivery that I really love, mixed with vaguely twinkly guitars that sparkle and build in fantastic ways. I guess p.s. eliot is not a bad reference point, but with some amazing vocal gymnastics and less of a punk feel to the music. Good lyrics too.

This is my favourite song from the EP, although the ten-minute closer "Second Name" is great too. The way this one builds towards the end is just brilliant.

This is a very odd video, but it was the only place online that I could find it. Anyway, it's quite funny. The song doesn't start until about 30 seconds in, and fades out towards the end. Oh well.


Sunday, 10 April 2011

Song Of The Day 10/04/2011: p.s. eliot - Cross Eyed

A couple of days ago p.s. eliot played a launch party show for their second album, Sadie. They're one of my favourite bands around at the moment so although I couldn't make it to Brooklyn for the show I was obviously super excited when the record appeared on the internet for download at ifyoumakeit.

I've only had a chance to listen all the way through once so far, but on first go it sounds like it sticks with all of the things I love about the band (the fantastic lyrics and impassioned vocal delivery, combined with their slightly fuzzy guitars and the odd bit of harmony vocals). I'm definitely looking forward to getting to know it better.

The whole album's up for free download at the link above: if you like it then please either donate some money to the band or buy it on vinyl from Salinas as I'm going to (actually, if anyone wants to share an order with me to save on postage then that would be ace!) If you like this then be sure to check out their first album and last year's EP, as pretty much everything they've done is fantastic.

p.s. eliot - Cross Eyed

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Song Of The Day 09/04/2011: Of Montreal - Famine Affair

Of Montreal were one of the second wave of Elephant 6 bands back in the late 1990s, but since then they've kind of strayed from the Apples In Stereo-esque indiepop of their early records. They have long had more of an electronic influence than many of their contemporaries, although their last album ('False Priest'), from which this song is taken, marked a return to live instrumentation and a more standard indiepop sound. They still have a marked dance vibe, though. There are some pretty strange lyrics in this song - I'm not really sure whether that is 'strange in a good way' or not. Judge for yourself.

Thought she was my Annie Hall
Or at least Ali MacGraw,
Now I feel so wilted.
It's a famine affair,
The whole attempt was shoddy
Just put trash in my body.

According to the band's frontman, Kevin Barnes, "It's the story of a man living in a feminine empire. As a male, he is considered lower class. He is expected to abstain from any social interaction with members of the ruling class, and provide sperm for breeding rituals. Each household is provided by the State with one male, the housemale is not permitted to leave the grounds. The housemale must live in the estate he is assigned to until death or sexual impotence."

Right. I'm pretty sure it was just an excuse to make one of the raunchier videos of 2010. Although it does explain the little plastic cup that makes an appearance at the end of the video.

Of Montreal – Famine Affair

Friday, 8 April 2011

Song Of The Day 08/04/2011: Crystal Stilts - Through the Floor

Yeah, I posted Crystal Stilts as the song of the day a few weeks ago, but since then I've had the chance to listen to their new record quite a lot (although it's not out until the 11th, they were selling it after the gig at Cargo a couple of weeks ago). A couple of other bands I love (Pains and Okkervil River) have had new albums out/leaked recently that I've been a little disappointed by, but this one really delivers the goods.
It takes the gothic-y, moody lo-fi pop formula of the first album, but everything sounds a bit bigger and more elaborate, without losing the simplistic kind of charm which made the first so catchy. They've had some fun with the added possibilities of the studio, and the arrangements are a bit busier and more fleshed out (I'm pretty sure there's even some harpsichord on a couple of the songs). Every song is as full of classic pop hooks as you'd expect from them, although they're maybe buried slightly deeper than on the first and take a few more listens to get really embedded. On this song, the most immediately resonant on the album, they're using a classic four-chord progression, but it still feels somehow fresh, which I think is mainly due to the vocals (I love the ooh-oohs on the chorus especially).
Anyway, buy the record when it comes out. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

(youtube link as this isn't on Spotify yet):
Crystal Stilts - Through the Floor