Monday, 31 January 2011

Long Fin Killie

Hello, I'm a new writer for the Punch Table. I'm Edwin, and I have my own blog at Most People Are DJs which focuses on my weekly radio show. I, like Toby, love indiepop, but I also like noisier stuff too, which I guess I'll be posting more of for balance. In that spirit, here's my first band feature: Long Fin Killie.

The new Mogwai record has a guest vocal (on 'Mexican Grand Prix') from Luke Sutherland. It's not the first time he's collaborated with Mogwai; he's from the same Glasgow scene and played violin on some of their previous records. But although he's probably most heard (if not recognised) for his Mogwai stuff, he's also a brilliant songwriter and musician in his own right.

Sutherland's first band was Long Fin Killie, who released 3 albums and a few EPs and singles on Too Pure around the end of the nineties. They're fantastic records, with a clear sense of progress between each (carrying on into Sutherland's more recent trip-hoppy stuff with Bows). LFK play a mixture of taut, nervy, mathy post-punk and more atmospheric and repetitive pieces, especially on the earlier albums, and their third, Amelia, at times veers into drum and bass. Their best songs take the clean and choppy guitar sounds of American math-rock and post-hardcore, mix them with drums which almost touch on funk patterns but sound strangely appropriate, and then add Sutherland's unique vocals over the top. Don't mistake this for indiepop, no matter how jaunty it might sound: this stuff is bleak. Homophobia, racism, sexual perversion and the grotesquely obese are all subjects for Sutherland's brutally sharp barbs. The lyrics are constructed in an observational, poetic style, full of self-referential call-backs to other LFK songs (which I always like in a band) and sometimes even borrowings from indie superstars ('Headlines' reinterprets the ooh-oohs from Pavement's 'In the Mouth a Desert'). Lyrically this isn't post-rock: it's post-modernist rock, with cryptic layers of meaning to play with. Sutherland's since published three literary novels.

Of the albums, Houdini's the most ambient-sounding, and features a guest vocal from Mark E. Smith; Amelia's the most conventional of the three. But Valentino, their second, is brilliant, confrontational and yet somehow pop and one of my favourite albums of the nineties. Have a listen to the opener, 'Godiva': clattering post-hardcore guitar melts into that reedy falsetto singing about a "well-aimed Cantona". One of the great under-appreciated bands, and a welcome reminder of the potential of really experimental rock.

Song Of The Day 31/01/2011: Hefner - Hymn For The Cigarettes

Probably one of my favourite songs. Ludicrously catchy (but in a good way), with a great lyrical hook ('How can she love me if she doesn't even love the cinema that I love?'), I can listen to this song over and over again back-to-back and not get bored of it. A song about looking back on a relationship, with memories triggered by brands of cigarette, it was the opener on Hefner's 1999 album The Fidelity Wars. Hefner were one of the foremost bands of the mid/late 90s indie generation, led by Darren Hayman, who is still going strong, releasing great cult albums every couple of years. Most of his stuff is about loss and despair, but it always seems to avoid just getting depressing - this song in particular can rock out with the best of them.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Album Review: Bubblegum Lemonade - Sophomore Release

[Matinee, 2010]

Taking a lot from both the Byrds-ian jangle of early Sarah bands and the fuzz-pop of the Jesus & Mary Chain, Bubblegum Lemonade are clearly influenced by a lot of their Scottish forebears. Mostly the work of just one man, Laz McCluskey, with the occasional female backing vocal, the LP and EPs they've released so far have been choc-a-block with pop classics, and this second album (see what they did there?) is more of the same. Opening song and lead single 'Caroline's Radio', a reference to the pirate pop radio station Radio Caroline, gets the album off to a great start, with a great melody and a definite Teenage Fanclub vibe. The rest of the album continues in a similar vein - there isn't a bad track here, and McCluskey doesn't fall into the trap of so many indiepop bands of making it very hard to distinguish between the songs. It all sounds just like McCluskey is having fun, throwing bongos, tambourines and glockenspiels into the mix at varying points on the record.

This album is easily identifiable as a Matinee Recordings release. Matinee were formed in the late 90s as a way of reviving the classic jangle pop sounds of labels like Sarah and Creation. This album is a definite part of that lineage - there really is nothing new here at all, and it's unlikely anyone will be listening to it in even 2 years' time, but for now it is just a fun record with great catchy tunes and jangly guitar. I can see Bubblegum Lemonade continuing like this for a while - even though it is extremely unlikely they'll ever release a hit record, they could well carve out a cult following in this bubblegum pop niche.

Song Of The Day 30/01/2011: Richard & Linda Thompson - Withered And Died

Much of the stuff that Thompson has released during his long post-Fairport Convention career has been very downbeat, ever since the car crash in May 1969 that killed his then girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, as well as Fairport's drummer Martin Lamble. The album from which this song is from, 'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight', is one of the bleakest of the lot, dealing largely with loneliness and a struggle with the pointlessness of life. Some songs go beyond just being merely downbeat to fostering a sense of complete emptiness.. It is also one of the best albums ever released, with Richard's brilliant guitar playing, wife Linda's stunning, emotional voice and some of the warmest horn parts I've ever heard showcasing some absolutely outstanding songwriting. Admittedly, the beginning of side 2 is slightly weaker than the rest of the album, but overall this is a criminally underrated record, and listening to it properly front-to-back is a stunning experience.

Having said that you should listen to the full thing, here's just a single song, the third track. In theory, this is an incredibly depressing song, written from the point of view of someone who has lost everything they care about. Somehow, however, it manages to make the complete collapse of a life sound more hopeful than anything else.

Richard & Linda Thompson - Withered & Died

Saturday, 29 January 2011

New Band: Grouplove

A band getting a reasonable amount of hype at the moment, Grouplove formed when they were on holiday in Crete and, despite living in a variety of countries, managed eventually to gather and record a debut EP, released in May last year. They've just started a European tour, and are going to be playing a few London shows over the next few weeks, which I'm definitely going to try to get to.

'Colours' is their biggest single, and I've embedded the (overly theatric) video they've released for it. It uses a lot of repetition, which makes it drive along more powerfully and makes in more fun than most of this kind of dancey rhythmic indiepop. The rest of the EP is well worth checking out too.

Song Of The Day 29/01/2011: Maps - So Low, So High

I got the album this is from, Maps' 'We Can Create', when it first came out a few years ago, but didn't really get into it until the last month or so, when I finally gave it a re-listen. It's electronic-tinged dream pop, but what really makes it is the lush layered instrumentation and the euphoric tune that burrows its way into your head. The breathy forceful lyrics help too.

Maps - So Low, So High

Friday, 28 January 2011

Song Of The Day 28/01/2011: Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Gothenburg Handshake

A bit of a rarity today. This is a Pains demo from a very long time ago, around the time of their first EP. They never recorded it properly or released it, meaning it's only available on YouTube and the quality is fairly poor. But it's a great song, more like the indiepop of their most recent stuff than the fuzz of their debut album. I'm not altogether sure whether it's meant to sound quite so much like it's being played at the bottom of a lake, with weird warbling going on in the guitar part, but to be honest I like it that way.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Song Of The Day 27/01/2011: Shrag - Tights In August

This is a song from London/Brighton band Shrag's 'Life! Death! Prizes!', released last autumn. I really liked their preceding LP (not really an album, more of a collection of early singles), which has a few great singles on, but also quite a lot of filler. The new record (which played fairly highly in my run-down of 2011, and which has definitely gone up in my estimations even since then) manages to take the spirit of their first few singles and stretch it out over an album, adding in some better tunes and greater variation. This song could really have been any one of about 5 great tracks on this album, but I chose this one as it used to be my favourite Shrag track back in the days of the first couple of times I saw them.

Shrag - Tights In August

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Song Of The Day 26/01/2011: Julian Cope - Bill Drummond Says

Here's the first in a new series of short posts that I'm going to try to keep updated every day. I think the title is fairly self-explanatory.

The first song in the series is Julian Cope's Bill Drummond Says, from his 1986 album 'Fried'. Bill Drummond was Julian Cope's ex-manager, who was also in the KLF, an artistic pop group from the late 80s best known for a variety of slightly odd publicity stunts. The song itself is an indiepop classic, from an artist who is not normally known for his pop sensibilities these days but rather for his books on various disparate genres, the first (and best) of which was Krautrocksampler. I recommend having a read.

Julian Cope - Bill Drummond Says

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Live Review: (Not) The Track & Field Winter Sprinter, Part 3 - 06/01/2011

Finally, the (slightly short) 3rd part of this mini-festival review. Only about 3 weeks since the event. Oh well.

The Leaf Library were on first, playing some nice piano-based indiepop tunes. They were pretty good, but I found they were a bit 'wall-of-sound'-y - there really wasn't that much space to think or even breathe in their songs. They could do with introducing a few rests into their repertoire. They've had an album out since the gig, which is available for whatever you want to pay over at their Bandcamp, and it's worth a listen if you're into melodic indiepop. I've downloaded it, and have only listened fairly briefly, but it seems to play to their strengths more than the live show did.

I hadn't seen The Wave Pictures live as a full band before, and they weren't really like I expected. The focus was definitely on David Tattersall's virtuoso guitar playing and plaintive lyrics, but the rest of the band were great too, both instrumentally and vocally. They had a few sound problems but came through unscathed eventually, showing the experience they've built up over the past few years. They've been on the scene for a while now, and to be honest I think 2011 is a bit of a make-or-break year for them - they deserve a bigger audience, but whether they'll ever get one is starting to look doubtful.

Darren Hayman was on last, with his backing back the Secondary Modern, and they were brilliant as ever. Most of the songs he played were either the best songs from the (extremely good) new album or have been staples of his live set ever since I started seeing him live, which made for an incredibly good, tight set. Most of the songs were love songs with a bit of a twist (such as the song Darren introduced as being about a woman singing her love to a loyal dog as she was led off to the gallows). Again, there were a few sound problems, the most notable of which was the DJ booth taking on a mind of its own, but they didn't detract from the gig at all. The older songs, such as his lesser-known old band the French's 'hit' 'The Wu-Tang Clan', which I vastly prefer in its modern format, alternated (as ever) between harrowing and barnstorming, and the new songs such as 'Winter Makes You Want Me More' fitted in well. My personal highlights were probably the songs from 'Pram Town', my favourite Hayman album, with 'Big Fish' and 'Out Of My League' really showing just how good a songwriter he still is. He's currently doing a project where he tries to record a new song every day of January, which I recommend checking out. He played the new song written on the day of the gig as part of the encore, and it was great, but my favourite is the one he did with Elizabeth Morris of Allo Darlin'.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

New Band: Be Like Pablo

A brilliant little Glasgow indiepop band. They were at Indietracks last year, and I heard very good things about them, but didn't actually get round to seeing them - I think they overlapped with the indiepop pub quiz and MJ Hibbett. They did, however, make their presence fairly obvious during the rest of the festival, walking around and forcing people to follow them to see various bands they seemed to be obsessed with. They got me to see Ballboy, who I wouldn't have seen otherwise and who were one of my highlights of the festival, so kudos to them for that, before I even start talking about their music.

There are a few songs streamable on their Myspace. They describe themselves as "the beach Boys with Scottish accents, Moog synthesisers, noisy guitars and a healthy dose of nerdy enthusiasm". I'd go along with all of that. 'The Post-It Song' is brilliant, with interlocking boy-girl vocals (where the girl sounds far more Scottish than the boy - I don't know why, but this sounds weird to me), but 'Julianne' is even better. I don't know how well this kind of thing would stretch into a full album, but if they can find a bit more variety, then I don't see why the album (which they are apparently just finishing mixing) couldn't be one of the first brilliant UK indiepop records of the year. Here's a YouTube video of Julianne.

EP Review: V/A - More Soul Than Wigan Casino

[Fortuna Pop!, 2004]

This is an EP of a few indiepop bands covering Northern Soul, released back in the pre-POBPAH days, when Fortuna Pop! was an even smaller label than it is now. I heard about it from a really old interview in which Sean Price, Fortuna Pop's 'El Presidente', did a run-through of the label's 10 most significant releases, and I had to track it down. Sean says that there was a fair amount of angst during the recording, especially between Kicker and Comet Gain. Don't quite understand this, as half of Kicker was actually in Comet Gain....

The bands all make a decent fist of it, with Kicker the highlight, doing a brilliant stomping, bass-led version of The Inticers' 'Since You Left' that genuinely sounds like it could have been the original - the singer's voice fits the song perfectly. You can find an mp3 of it here. The other songs are all great though, although I'm still not completely convinced by Airport Girl, Sean's own band. Bar a couple of great singles, they always seem to fall a bit flat to me, and their cover of Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette) by the O'Jays is the weakest song here, with very little of the feel of the original song, but still sounds like a pretty good 80-s style indiepop tune.  The Butterflies of Love, possibly Fortuna Pop!'s biggest band at the time, turn in a pretty good heartfelt version of 'Two Lovers' by Mary Wells, and Comet Gain's version of Dena Barnes' 'If You Ever Walk Out On My Life' is really ace, with chiming trebly guitars and a great chorus.

I don't know the originals of most of these songs, but am definitely going to look into Northern Soul a bit more. If anyone has any recommendations, please leave them as a comment - I don't seem to get many comments apart from people under pseudonyms pointing out factual 'errors', and I know a fair few of you are reading this, so take the plunge!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Looking forward to the rest of 2011

I've had a bit of a think about what I'm expecting my albums of the year this year to be. I've already heard a good number of great albums this year (Decemberists, Yuck, Mogwai) and it's shaping up to be a classic. Here, in no particular order, is my list of what I'm expecting my year-end list in December to look like. We'll see how accurate I am.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong
The debut was fantastic, and what I've heard of the new one has got me more excited about an album than I've been since this time last year, when I was building up to my album of 2010, High Violet. We can but hope it'll come to the same result.

Radiohead - ?
A bit obvious maybe, but In Rainbows was so good, and so surprising given that Hail To The Thief was a fairly big let-down. I, like all but about 10 people in the world, have no idea at all what their new album will sound like, but if it is as forward-thinking and genuinely beautiful as their last, it'll be a treat.

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
With this album having leaked on New Year's Eve, I have already heard it. It's brilliant, continuing the more accessible vein of the last couple of Mogwai albums but with the atmosphere of their earlier stuff. Expect a fuller review in the next few days.

Cass McCombs - ?
This American songwriter has been releasing classic albums fairly regularly for the last few years, and I think he's the most likely of the current batch of folky guitarists to vastly increase his fanbase with a new album this year, especially if it turns out being one of his more upbeat albums.

The Strokes - ?
They aren't new or exciting, they're no longer as cool as they were in 2001, and they've made a collection of middling solo and side-project albums between them since their last album, which was incredibly disappointing. But I'm always going to love 'Is This It?', it being one of the albums that got the rest of the world (and me) into the early 2000s garage rock scene, and gradually led me to where my music tastes currently are. If the first few bars of the new record have anything like the effect on me as the beginning of 'What Ever Happened?', this is going to be a fun year.

Veronica Falls - ?
I talked a lot about them in my recent post on them. They've only released 5 songs so far, but each one of them (especially the singles) have been truly excellent, and they're really good live too. They have the potential to not just make it into my top 10 of the year, but be a bit of a breakout hit too. We'll see.

Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
I reviewed this album earlier today, which means I don't really have any great new insights for this post. But it's bloody good.

Battles - ?
Their last album came out aeons ago, and they must have been working on something new for a while. I'm expecting something slightly more tuneful and less front-loaded than their last effort, but since no-one has really taken up the math-rock gauntlet they laid down with 'Mirrored' 3 years ago I'm expecting them to try and ram their ideas more into the current American rock scene. Math rock is my prediction to be the 'growth' genre this year, in the way that the new wave of shoegaze might come to be seen as the 'thing' of 2010.

Yuck - Yuck
Another album I've already reviewed. You can find my thoughts on it here. A smattering of Sonic Youth and a real variety between the songs make this a proper album - a collection of songs that work either on their own or as an LP. Probably not going to make the upper reaches of the list, but I can see myself listening to it an alarming amount this year.

(wild card) 
A London indiepop album, either the new Shrag/Standard Fare/Allo Darlin' or a debut. Or maybe some kind of acoustic guitarist I haven't heard of before, in the tradition of Bon Iver and Tallest Man On Earth. Who knows. Basically, it looks like it could be a bumper crop.

Album Review: The Decemberists - The King Is Dead

[Capitol, 2011]

I didn't really like the Decemberists' last album. Having written a few top quality albums of americana-y English-leaning indie folk, they suddenly took a misguided turn for prog. They'd always been pretty theatrical, but 2009's 'The Hazards Of Love' took it to a new level. Now they've abandoned that path, thankfully, going back towards their roots and making an album with Peter Buck of REM fame that is fairly clearly heavily influenced by the college rock progenitors. I'm not sure whether the album's title is meant to be an overt Smiths reference or not, but this is definitely the most 80s-sounding album in the band's ouevre. The sprawling epics are gone, replaced by shorter, tauter tracks. The best song on the album, 'Calamity Song', sounds pretty much exactly like an amalgamation of the first 5 tracks of 'Reckoning'. This is in no way a bad thing though, and indeed makes for one of the best songs of 2011 I've heard so far. 'Rox In The Box' is also a really good song, while being a fairly unadventurous sing-a-long folk ballad. These songs set the pattern for the whole record. Everything here is fairly obvious, but some of the melodies and instrumentations are absolutely gorgeous.

The descriptive, intellectual (and to be honest, pretentious) lyrics that previously defined the band's output are mostly gone, with only the odd relapse ('And the Panamanian child stands at the Dowager Empress' side' - what?). Indeed, much of what made the band unique in the current American scene has been abandoned. It is definitely a lot less artistic than their early albums, and could really have been made by any one of a number of bands. I never thought I'd say that about a Decemberists album. They've made what is a really good, enjoyable rock record, but lost something along the way.

Album Review: Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

[4AD, 2011]

It's been a very long time since 'The Shepherd's Dog', Sam Beam's excellent 2007 album that was his springboard to the forefront of what was then a fairly new & growing american folk revival. Since then, artists like Bon Iver have taken his baton on and carved out their own styles in the niche. It isn't that surprising that Beam has tried something new with his new album, following Sufjan Stevens's retreating figure into the vague realms of electronic music, and that is apparent from the opening of the first track. 'Walking Far From Home' is utilizes almost Beach Boys-y harmonies, backing them with a mixture of synth, fuzz and choirs. The result is an excellent song different from anything he's done before, but still obviously him. The synths take an even more obvious front seat in 'Monkeys Uptown', a song that, to be honest, isn't that inspiring.

That said, it isn't totally different from before. There are still the biblical references and the odd piano ballad and fingerpicked Deep South folk tune. 'Half Moon', probably my favourite song on the album, could have appeared on any of Beam's previous albums. A lilting doo-wop backing vocalist joins him, making an almost calypso-y beat. The swanny whistles and flutes pointlessly warbling could be seen as a mistake, as could the fact that this song, like a few others on the album, outstays its welcome by at least a minute.The songwriting more than makes up for this, however, with this album featuring what is definitely Beam's strongest set of songs to date. There isn't as standout a track as 'Flightless Bird, American Mouth' here, but the songs work really well as an album, feeling relaxing and lilting while having a dark undercurrent. I can see myself getting to know this album better over the next few months, and it definitely has the potential to be one of the better records of 2011, working its way gradually into your brain over repeated listens.

Beam's new marimba-and-synth direction is definitely an interesting one. The album is really good in patches, but I'm not quite qure yet whether it has the quality to really grab your interest for the full length. It'll be interesting to see whether he continues further down this way with his next album, or whether he discards it as quickly as he did the African influences of 'The Shepherd's Dog'. Either way, I really hope he's quicker with his next album than he was with this one.

Album Review: Tennis - Cape Dory

[Fat Possum, 2011]

Written as a concept album documenting an 8-month sailing holiday around the East Coast of America, Cape Dory is very much an album of the moment. It's yet another surf-pop album with female vocals and a heavy layer of warm fuzz. More than a few bands have tried exactly this formula recently, foremost among them probably being the Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast, two albums I genuinely like a lot. This isn't a particularly challenging listen (or even, I'm betting, a particularly challenging write), but I definitely have a soft spot for this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, Tennis just don't really find it.

Some of the more laid-back melodies, like 'Bimini Bay', really are nice, and the album would be really good for a relaxing day at the beach, say. Singer Alaina Moore has a really pleasant voice, but one that it is hard to really follow the lyrics of in any meaningful way - it's more of a calming wash than it is giving anything approaching a definitive statement. Some of the songs on their own are pretty good, 'Marathon' being the obvious choice as a lead single and 'Baltimore' also being a standout track, but they just get washed away when they're part of the album as a whole. Cue bad 'beach pop' sandcastle metaphor.

This record acts as very nice background music. Its very twee (thats the adjective, not the musical style - with a small 't' rather than a capital, I suppose) and extremely inoffensive, but doesn't really manage to impose itself at all. At less than half an hour long, it's very easy listening - and might actually be approaching that much-maligned genre rather than those words just being a description. And no review can be complete without mentioning that truly terrible artwork. I have literally no idea how anyone could have thought that was a good idea - irony doesn't make absolutely everything OK.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Live Review: (Not) The Track & Field Winter Sprinter, Part 2 - 05/01/2011

Veronica Falls started off the second day of the Winter Sprinter. The crowd was noticeably different to most London indiepop gigs - there are a lot of checked shirts and hipstery glasses - which waas a sign of their growing audience and buzz. I did a post on them yesterday, which outlines my thoughts on the band, and here they played an excellent set, with all the songs I knew and a couple of high-quality covers. Found Love In The Graveyard was the highlight, and this is a band to whom the 'big things are expected' cliche is readily applicable.

The Loft were up next. They've aged less badly than some of the first-wave indiepop bands (Mighty Mighty in particular looked about 90 when I saw them last summer), bar a slight resemblance between the drummer and Geriatrix from the Asterix books. Not knowing much apart form their biggest song, 'How Does The Rain?', I was pleasantly surprised. It's always good to see bands like this from a historical point of view, but quite often (see the aforementioned Mighty Mighty and the Orchids, for example) they really aren't that great live. The Loft seemed like they hadn't changed at all, despite having a 20+ year hiatus. I suppose that means they aren't as tired of it all as some bands that have kept goig right through.

Comet Gain, with their endearingly shambolic frontman David Feck on hilarious form, had all the ingredients for a terrible gig - sound problems, tuning problems, getting to the stage very late and then overrunning, not playing my favourite song of theirs (You Can Hide Your Love Forever) - but played a brilliant set, interspersed with hilarious 'banter' between songs. The band were obviously drunk, and indeed admitted as much halfway through the set, saying that Sean from Fortuna Pop! had been trying to give them tiny beers but that they'd managed to get drunk anyway. The crowd really loved them as well, which always helps. A few diehard fans were requesting a few fan favourites, the most frequently-heard of which (Movies) was played at the end of the set, despite requiring a couple of restarts and a brief working-out of how to play it. They've gone up in my estimations massively as a band after this gig.

The third and last segment of this gig review is coming soon - hopefully in less time than it took this one to appear!

Bootleg Review: The Lost Jukebox

I came across this massive labour of love at the excellent blog Saved From The Trashcan, which has so far posted up over 120 volumes out of 240. That is a hell of a lot of CDs. I haven't even scratched the surface really, but can heartily recommend everything I've heard. Basically a compilation of 60s garage pop and rock, the same kind of thing that is on 'Nuggets!', it just goes much deeper than a mainstream compilation ever could. None of the songs got anywhere near the US top 40, with very few even getting anywhere near the top 100, and none of the bands have gone on to what could be classed as 'fame' these days, although some stayed around for a while, some even having hit singles (such as the Association, the very first artist featured, who were the lead-off band at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967). The quality isn't amazing, as all the songs have been ripped from old 7"s, but is definitely listenable. There are a lot of Beatles and Stones copyists (obviously - this is the 60s) but some of these songs are just ridiculously fun, ranging from early 60s pop (such as So Glad by the Good Time Singers) to more psychedelic stuff. I've put a few more mp3s of the highlights from the first couple of volumes at the end of the post.

There seems to be so much of this kind of thing around from the 60s. I don't know where the story started that DIY music didn't exist before the Buzzcocks, to be honest - John Fahey was one of the first artists to self-release a record, way back in 1959, and there were loads of small record labels around during the hippy days of the late 60s releasing stuff like this to a small audience. The records sound just as professionally recorded as many by the bigger names in the industry. Admittedly there don't seem to have been any truly major albums released by what would be termed 'indie' labels these days, but I think this is probably They just seem to have all got swallowed up in the dark days of the early 70s, with even bands from the DIY scene of pub rock releasing records on subsidiaries of major labels. Of course, the internet now means that anyone at all can make music, but I'm not sure the situation wasn't pretty much always thus.

The Good Time Singers - So Glad
The Rumbles Ltd. - California My Way
Steve Clayton - Girls Are Imitating Twiggy
Stephan & Janis - I Understand
The American Breed - When I'm With You


New Band: Walter Mitty & his Makeshift Orchestra

Walter Mitty... make ultra-lofi bedroom songs, but unlike a lot of stuff in that grouping their stuff is genuinely charming and also pretty catchy. The lyrics are mostly about things like letting friends vomit on floors, and they make heavy use of a kazoo - and it's as brilliant as that sounds. They deserve far more than the 34 (34!!!) listeners they currently have on, and to have better gigs coming up than just what appears from their website to be a week of busking in Portland - some of their songs are easily as good as modern american lo-fi king Adam Green, for example. They've got a couple of EPs for free download on Bandcamp - the better of the two is at this link.

As an illustration of how fun this band is, here's a live video of a mass-singalong they inspired during a gig at a donut shop. God, I wish stuff like this happened in this country. Can you imagine any current British indiepop/lo-fi bands doing this? Not at all.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

New Band: Veronica Falls

Here's a quick post about this brilliant new band. Having seen them live last week (the write-up of which is still pending) I got a demo CD of their songs so far, and I love it. All the best songs from their live set are there. Formed in that most bounteous of cities, Glasgow, by ex-members of indiepoppers The Royal We (who I really need to investigate more) they released a 7" on Slumberland under the name Sexy Kids before becoming slightly darker and fuzzier, and taking on their current name. Staples of the live scene over the last year or so, they've built up a bit of a following, and were apparently due to have recorded their debut by the end of the year.

Sound-wise, they obviously draw a lot from the fuzzier end of indiepop, especially from the current New York scene - they owe a lot to Vivian Girls, but Veronica Falls have much better tunes than anything VG have written. The songs are mostly quite dark, especially their debut single Found Love In A Graveyard, a song about falling in love with a ghost. I've put a link to the mp3 at the end of this post. They also do an ace cover of 'Starry Eyes' by Roky Erickson, which is freely available of Spotify.

A bit like a slightly fey-er Siouxie and the Banshees, in summary. If that doesn't sound abolutely amazing, then shame on you. I can't wait for the album.

Veronica Falls - Found Love In A Graveyard

Friday, 7 January 2011

Live Review: (Not) The Track & Field Winter Sprinter, Part 1 - 04/01/2011

Over the last 3 days I've been to every night of this mini-festival at the Lexington. Organised by Fortuna Pop! supremo Sean, it was the perfect opportunity to get 2011 off to a great indiepoppy start. 3 nights, 3 bands on each, with bands taken from the whole spectrum of indiepop, from the C86 veterans The Loft, who featured on the original compilation that gave the scene its name, right through to Veronica Falls, an up-to-the-minute fuzzpop band for the Upset The Rhythm scenesters. I think I'll just do a post for each day, as otherwise it would get a big over-long, with a paragraph on each band.

Evans The Death started the first night, deputising for one of my most-anticipated bands of the week, Shrag, who had to drop out through illness. I saw them at the Buffalo Bar a couple of months ago, and wasn't that impressed, and they didn't do anything to change my mind this time. I liked the dual vocals, which sounded like they were singing the same thing just a third apart, and the rhythm section was fairly tight, but the guitarist was woefully out of tune for most of the set and all their songs sounded very similar. Luckily, they all looked about 13, so they've got enough time to hone their skills and develop a bit.

Standard Fare only played a fairly short set, but they were, as usual, brilliant. Playing all the better songs from their (slightly hit-and-miss, in my opinion) debut, they appeared to be having fun on stage, which is always a start, and some of their songs are in the very top echelon of modern indiepop.  Some really impressive musicianship also set them apart, in a scene where it isn't totally necessary. They closed the set with Fifteen, one of my songs of last year. They're just completely charming in everything they do, from the fact that their guitarist is the happiest man in indiepop (closely challenged by Allo Darlin's Bill Botting) to their apparent shyness between songs. I really have no idea how Standard Fare always seem to be so far down the bill at indiepop gigs - even with the original lineup for this gig, while Shrag were still scheduled, I'd have put them as headliners like a shot. As it was, they were originally due on stage at 8:30. Crazy.

Having only seen the Loves before on the large outdoor stage at Indietracks, and not having been completely convinced by them on record, I was very surprised by how good they were live. One of the few bands this week who stretched the definition of the term 'indiepop' to breaking point, they seemed far more inspired by 1966 than 1986 (apart from in the department of facial hair, unfortunately), playing a set that mainly consisted of Nuggets-y garage pop. This can be heard pretty well on the track they did for the Fortuna Pop! sampler a couple of years ago, Xs And Os. Much like Standard Fare, they were enjoying themselves on stage - it was the drummer's birthday, so they all got out small party hats half way through the set, and they brought Paul Wright, the founder of the Track & Field Organisation, onto the stage to play the part of Jesus in one song (a role performed on record by Doug Yule of Velvet Underground fame). It was fundamentally a great gig, both musically and for the atmosphere they generated in the crowd, and I'm pretty disappointed that I've finally got into them so late, with their last gig scheduled for Valentine's Day next month.

I'll do posts on the second and third days in the near future!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Album Review: The Felt Tips - Living and Growing

(I'm going to start doing Spotify links to songs in posts. There are a few embedded. Enjoy.)

[Plastilina, 2010]

Glasgow's Felt Tips have been around for a while, and have recorded a few singles over the last 3 years, but this is their debut album proper. A lot of the great songs I have been listening to in demo form for a while are re-recorded here, thankfully, meaning they can finally see wider release. Another in the long line of great Scottish indiepop bands, instrumentally the Felt Tips are just an above-average jangle pop band, albeit one with an ear for a great tune. It is lyrically where they really shine.

The lead singer Andrew's voice is perfect for the tales of teenage fumbles, the songs forming genuine stories with proper characters and everything. Bought And Sold, the tale of a trip down from Scotland to London, is a case in point, as is Silver Spoon, a much bleaker tale of a girl from a rich background who suffers horrendous injuries in a car crash. The backing music initially feels jangly and happy, but listening to more than a couple of these songs at once reveals depths, which try to emphasise just how empty and depressing the life that the singer appears to be trying to leave can be. I like to think the album is autobiographical, because the singer's experiences seem a lot more in tune with those of genuine people than a lot of their contemporaries. Maybe my favourite song on the album, however, is Dear Morrissey, a paean-of-sorts to the Morrissey of the 80s, and all that he stood for, which has in many ways been undermined by his latter-day actions (listened to Paint A Vulgar Picture recently?)

Had I realised this album had come out in 2010 when I wrote my run-down, it would definitely have made an appearance in the top 10. As it is, I think I'll just be listening to it for a good portion of 2011, at the very least.

Album Review: Yuck - Yuck

[Fat Possum, 2011]

Originally sold to the masses as a 'shoegazey Sonic Youth', Yuck have been building up a lot of hype recently. Chosen as one of the BBC's Sound of 2011 bands, and formed by some of the ex-members of Cajun Dance Party, they had a lot of potential to be truly terrible. The Vaccines, their rivals in the BBC poll, seem to be another in the line of terrible 'indie' NME bands of recent years, but Yuck are actually surprisingly good.

They claim to be influenced by Mark Kozelek and various shoegaze bands, but in reality at least half their songs could have been released by late 80s/early 90s Teenage Fanclub, while the rest draw heavily on a variety of sources, all of which I love. 'Georgia' is one of the lead singles from the album, and probably the most poppy this album gets, with echoes of various older American indiepop bands like Black Tambourine. 'Operation' is, essentially, exactly the same as 'Teen Age Riot', apart from lacking a bit of drive in certain sections. None of this is a bad thing in any way for a band still on their debut album, and they show the ability to be original as well, as in 'Rubber', the monolithic, devastating shoegaze ender to both the album and their live sets. Some of the guitar work really is exceptional, with jangle and fuzz both used to great effect.

Some of the slower songs are also worthy of praise. 'Suck', the only song where the Red House Painters influence really is evident, is much closer in spirit to their acoustic side-project, Yu(c)k, which released a really good EP late last year. Everything they've done until this album is downloadable on their website - I advise checking a lot of it out.

They basically just make bloody good 80s revivalist shoegazey rock music, the other side of the coin to the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart's 80s revivalist shoegazey pop music. And I think that was something that was lacking slightly in the music scene until Yuck came along.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Best Songs of 2010 (Spotify Playlist)

Here's a playlist for those of you with Spotify showcasing some of the better music released this year. I know it's skewed heavily towards the indiepop end of the spectrum, but I don't care.

There are a few songs that would have made the top 10 cut if they were on Spotify, such as Wive - Lazarvs and Dives, but I thought this was the best way to share them for listening convenience. The order isn't the order I would place them in, but is just so it works as a straight listen.

Best of 2010

My Albums of 2010, Part 2 (5-1)

Here's the second part of my 2010 rundown, slightly later than originally promised.

5 - Best Coast - Crazy For You

Definitely the most divisive album of the year. I come down solidly in the 'pro-' camp, though. It's neither clever - I lost count of the times she uses the same 'lazy-crazy' rhyme over the first half of the record - nor new, and it's potentially very annoying (especially the lead single, 'Boyfriend', as my housemates can attest). I just love it. There are few genres that can get under my skin more than this kind of summery fuzz-pop. Bethany Cosentino, who formed this band (it was rumoured, with her ex-babysitter) after leaving Pocahaunted, is scarily obsessed with the subject of these songs, enough for some lyrics to send a shiver down the spine, but instead of being a bad thing, this gives the whole album a cohesiveness which means it works well as a full album, something frequently lost in this mp3 age, and especially rare in throwaway pop like this. Not every album needs to be a challenging listen, and some of this album is just brilliant.

4 - The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt

There are obvious easy comparisons with 3rd-album-era Dylan, but in my mind this stretches no further than the fact that a guy with a fairly nasal voice has made a folk album good enough and accessible enough to be taken on and lauded by the wider music community. He's a lot more like Nick Drake, to my ears. The guitar-work especially is a lot more intricate than Dylan ever managed in his pre-electric days, and despite the lyrics being fairly obvious ('I plan to be forgotten when I'm gone', etc.), they are undeniably heartfelt and effective. This album, his second, takes the extraordinary songwriting and emotion from certain songs on his debut and makes it work over a full album. The rise in emotionless pop-'folk' this year (Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons, to name two of the worst offenders) has, to its credit, made this kind of thing fashionable again, and I think we could be about to have a 2011 renaissance of genuine folk albums like this. Even if they do come from Sweden.

3 - Wive - Pvll

An album apparently recorded over the internet, with the band never completely assembling, this is probably the most beautiful, and underappreciated, record of the year. Primarily using a violin and some samples as percussion (including, most effectively, turntable hisses and pops), as well as a few guest musicians, London's own Wive managed to produce an album that combines the kind of rootsy melancholy of Bon Iver's debut with electronics and feedback. If I had to sum this up in one word, it would definitely be 'haunting', but that is to do a disservice to the variety that is present if you just scratch the surface of the record. Listen to 'Lazarvs and Dives' if nothing else.

2 - The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

In the 'independent rock & pop' sections of the popular press, 2010 seems to have been the year of the Arcade Fire. Good as The Suburbs is, however, I think the Besnard Lakes wrote the best album to come out of the massively enviable Canadian indie scene this year. Very much an album to be listened to start-to-finish, the lush orchestrations and driving rhythms bring out the soaring melodies and implant them into your brain. The twin vocals of the husband-and-wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas work perfectly together, interlocking and alternating in style. Every single one of the tracks here, especially up to track 5 or so, is a potential highlight. The songs feel like I have always known them, without being 'catchy' per se. After this and their previous album, Dark Horse, the Besnard Lakes are well on their way to becoming one of my favourite bands.

1 - The National - High Violet

In the 3-year wait since their last, and best, album, Boxer, the National had built up some pretty big expectations. Their core fanbase, including  me, weren't originally completely convinced, with the new songs appearing to be their attempt to break into the mass market, lacking the  knowing witticism and intimacy of their previous albums. However, the album is a massive grower, and succeeds completely at what it tries to do, with songs like 'England' and 'Conversation 16' among the very best  of the year. Played live, even the weaker songs develop some remarkable character. In the last couple of months I have begun to appreciate this album a lot more, and think that it (unfortunately for their fans, fortunately for the band) could be the start of their ascent to genuine global levels. A worthy album of the year, from a band it's hard to imagine releasing anything that wouldn't also have claimed that title. Yes, I'm a bit of a fan-boy.