Monday, 28 February 2011

Song Of The Day 28/02/2011: Okkervil River - Blanket And Crib

Okkervil River really are stunningly good at this kind of uptmebo gradual build. Something about Will Sheff's voice means that whatever he sings sounds amazingly earnest, and this effect is accentuated at higher volumes - I'd say he probably does the 'shouty' stuff better than any other current artist (with the possible exception of Conor Oberst, who he sounds quite like occasionally anyway).

This song, from their second proper album, the underrated 'Down The River Of Golden Dreams', is just great. In my opinion, it is addressed to a newborn baby called Philip - much like another song discussed on these pages before, Richard & LInda Thompson's 'The End Of The Rainbow'. This song, however, is much more hopeful than the Thompsons' bleak masterpiece - it has a lot of the same kind of depressing stuff about the life that the baby will grow up to live, with the first and second verses really fairly downbeat, but the song then does something that Thompson doesn't. The lyrics speak for themselves, really, and are some of the most striking and affecting I've heard. I'm going to give into temptation and just write them here, verbatim, for you to follow. The accompanying music is almost triumphant, with a horn section alternating between aggressive blaring and more soft, introspective fare over a piano-led melody. A genuinely stunning song from one of my favourite bands around at the moment - I really can't wait for their new album, 'I Am Very Far', released in a couple of months.

Okkervil River - Blanket And Crib

Safe, safe, enjoy your time feeling so safe,
and treasure that smile on your face, OK,
Because time will see that it's replaced in a while.
So go on, smile.
And handshakes all around: that's your style,
and no one would call it denial,
for you're not even sure what's in store.

And it's more than youll be able to take standing up straight.
And it wont be OK.
And you wont be somebody who it's just happening to,
Because it's a trap that you, and only you,
Have laid. Laid with a towel up over your face,
In your armchair, just lying in wait,
Waiting forces were gathering outside your door.
They sharpened their knives
And smiled with no smiles in their eyes,
A little bit larger in size
And a little bit hungrier for that tiny prize.

And my mother once said
"Son, remember this, no matter what someone did:
That they once were just a kid at breast and in bib,
In blanket and crib.
So just reach inside yourself
And find the part that still needs help,
Find that part in someone else
And you'll do good"
So I thought that I would.

Hey - I love you, it goes without saying.
I would give you the world on a tray,
Though they're already tracing a line across your throat.
Far too late in the game you'll find that you have been betrayed:
Propped up and pushed into your place.
I could claim that it all would go great,
But the reason I came is to say that it won't.
You should know that it won't,
And so, Philip, let go.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Song Of The Day 27/02/2011: The Superimposers - Make It All Better

'Make It All Better' is from London band the Superimposers' third album, 'Harpsichord Treacle'. With obvious inspirations being Brian Wilson, Ronnie Lane and Ray Davies, It's very 60s-y, and very sugary - in my opinion, the album as a whole is a bit over-poppy, something I don't often say about this type of thing. As a standalone song, however, it is perfect for just lazing around in the summer, be it on the beach or in the park, and with the weather as cold and dreary as it is today I thought it might be nice to have a quick shot of summer warmth. I can imagine this band playing a great mid-afternoon set at a festival.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Song Of The Day 26/02/2011: Rocketship - I Love You Like The Way That I Used To Do

Rocketship were a mid-90s Slumberland Records band, at the twee end of that label's releases. A forerunner to the current trend of shoegazey 60s-influenced indiepop, they only released one album, 1996's 'A Certain Smile, A Certain Kindness'. This is the first track from that album.

The song has fairly basic lyrics, that verge on being too sugary - 'hug, hug, hug me and kiss, kiss, kiss me, tell, tell, tell me you'll miss, miss, miss me' is a case in point - but the best thing about this track is how well it switches from the 'pop' sections to the more dreamy shoegaze sections and back again. The lush sounds of the organs and the guitars, which have one of the nicest, smoothest, warmest effects combinations I've ever heard on a shoegaze record, blend together perfectly, making it the kind of breathless indiepop rush that can't really be improved on.

Rocketship – I Love You Like The Way That I Used To Do

Friday, 25 February 2011

Song Of The Day 25/02/2011: Nico - I'm Not Sayin'

'I'm Not Sayin'' was Nico's first single, released in 1965, two years before she guested on the Velvet Underground's debut. Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones, was introduced to her by Brian Joes, who had 'discovered' her potential, with her then working as a model and actress in various minor films. Jones also introduced her to Andy Warhol, triggering him to ask the Velvet Underground to take her on as a 'chanteuse'. Having got her to record a version of Gordon Lightfoot's 'I'm Not Sayin', Oldham released it as the third single on his own record label, Immediate Records, under the moniker 'The Beautiful Nico', and filmed a promotional video of her in a London dockyard. Interestingly, the session musician Oldham brought in to play the 12-string was a very young Jimmy Page. Later in her career, she was known for a markedly different style, using her harsh Germanic voice and passion for bleak organs to produce some of the most genuinely terrifying music I have ever heard. This, however, is fairly upbeat, throwaway pop that bears little resemblance to anything that came later. It is clearly nowhere near her best release, but there is something about the way she sings it that makes me wonder how she's have turned out if she hadn't been quite such a depressive personality.

Here's a better-quality mp3 too, as the sound in the above YouTube clip isn't great -

The Beautiful Nico - I'm Not Sayin'

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Song Of The Day 24/02/2011: Melys - Chinese Whispers

Melys were a late 90's band from Betws-Y-Coed in North Wales, and were a big favourite of the late John Peel. They recorded 11 sessions for him over the years, and in 2001 came top of his 'Festive Fifty' with this track, Chinese Whispers. The album it is from, 'Suikerspin' (which is the Dutch for 'candyfloss', apparently), was their third, and they split up two albums later having not really made much of a dent in the marketplace, coincidentally around the time of Peel's death. They leave behind some loyal fans, however, and in the last year or so have reunited for a couple of crowd-pleasing shows.

The song itself is fairly emotive stadium-pop. But it is much better than that sounds. There's nothing massively clever about it, but it is probably the high point of this kind of late 90s/early 00s proper pop music.

Melys – Chinese Whispers

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Song Of The Day 23/02/2011: Allo Darlin' - Silver Dollars

Allo Darlin' are probably my favourite of the current new wave of London indiepop bands, and are probably the closest to genuine twee that scene can boast. This is one of their best tracks, from their debut album released last year. They're a band that are great at pretty much anything they try - they have a ukulele-only song called Tallulah that can bring entire rooms to a hush, and that may well be a future SOTD - but I think this kind of twinkly guitar-led pop is what they do best. Everything about it is great - the lovely, trebly, chiming guitar part is backed by some fairly basic bass and drum parts that'll get the kids dancing. The lyrics are exceptional too, all about the trials of being in an indie band, with no money. Some of the lines in the song are absolutely brilliant, such as 'I'm even starting to wish that I'd finished a legal vocation. Yeah, my life would be dull, but at least I could go on vacation' and 'though you say we're just friends and that this love is purely platonic, I'm hoping that you'll forget after this round of gin and tonic'. It all adds up to a song I have played a frankly luidcrous amount over the last year.

Allo, Darlin' – Silver Dollars

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Song Of The Day 22/02/2011: Thrushes - Loyalty

Thrushes are a band from Baltimore. The song I've chosen today is from the first record, "Sun Come Undone", and they had another one out last year (although I haven't listened to it much). Both of them are on Spotify so give them a listen.

Anyway, Thrushes occupy the same territory as a few other bands on the edge of shoegaze and dreampop, with some "epic" post rock-style touches, but they basically do it a bit better than most of their contemporaries. Their first album's really good, a nice combination of some strong songwriting, great guitar sounds and lovely female vocals (which, as I have mentioned before, is a winning formula for me). And although they clearly love the same first-wave shoegaze bands as me and everyone else (Slowdive in particular I think), they're good enough to sound like they're adding something of their own to the well-worn formula. So don't listen to this expecting groundbreaking sonic experimentation or startling innovation; go into it expecting some lovely hazy dreampop and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

Thrushes - Loyalty

Monday, 21 February 2011

Bootleg Review: Bob Dylan - Songs For Bonnie: The Minnesota Hotel Tapes

This is a bootleg recorded in December 1961, when Dylan was still very much a folk singer - he hadn't even really started the 'protest songs' phase that brought him to the attention of the nation at large. There are no songs on here by Dylan himself - he was mostly playing adaptations of old folk standards, whilst working his way through the extensive works of his idol Woody Guthrie. He had dropped out of college just the year before, moving to Greenwich Village to join the burgeoning folk community there and go and visit Guthrie in a New Jersey hospital. In September, he had been the subject of Robert Shelton's famous New York Times article, describing him thus;

"A cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers up with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap. His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica or piano and composes new songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting at the seams with talent... Mr. Dylan is vague about his antecedents and birthplace, but it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up."

He had recorded his debut album by this stage, although it wasn't released until 1962. It was mainly comprised of folk standards as well, although it had a couple of original compositions on it. There isn't much crossover between the album and this bootleg, but those songs that appear on both are definitely stronger here - this was a period in which Dylan was developing with astonishing speed, even during the one month between that recording and this. Recorded in a single evening in the hotel room of the 'Bonnie' of the title, the collection of songs was a lot more diverse than that on his debut, drawing mainly on the blues but also on country and gospel. It showed him capable of much more than the fairly monotone, flat-sounding official release. It is frankly scary that at the time of this recording, Dylan was 2 years younger than I am now.

The sound quality is amazingly clear and precise throughout, bar a few momentary glitches, with Dylan in fine form. The second track, a version of Big Joe Williams' 'Baby Please Don't Go', is an immediate standout, showcasing Dylan's experiments with slide guitar. 'Baby Let Me Follow You Down' appears here too, years before it became one of the songs Dylan electrified with the Hawks when he 'abandoned' folk with a bang. This version has less of the punchiness of the later version, but has all of the heart and rawness. 'I Was Young When I Left Home' illustrates his more delicate fingerpicking guitar style, and the way his voice could mould itself to sound absolutely perfect for this type of folk song - there is no way he sounds a day under 60 in this recording, despite being only 20. Which I suppose is why, at the age of 70, he now sounds like he's at least 210.

The songs have been doing the rounds among Dylan fans for a very long time. Some of them were originally released on the very first bootleg LP, 'Great White Wonder', in 1969. The sound quality of that record wasn't great, and the tracklisting was incredibly haphazard, rearranging and interspersing this performace with other completely unrelated recordings. It was, however, a massively important release, not just to Dylan fans after more than the mere 10 or so albums and handful of 7" tracks they had to listen to by that point, but to recorded music as a whole.

Bob Dylan - Songs For Bonnie

Song Of The Day 21/02/2011: Cats On Fire - Tears In Your Cup

Here's a modern indiepop classic. Cats On Fire are from the western coast of Finland, and they play very Smiths-infused jangle. This is probably the best song on their most recent album, 2009's 'The Province Complains'. It isn't anything very clever, but I can easily get addicted to this kind of thing, and it has racked up a shocking number of spins in my stereo over the last few months. A year or so ago, Cats On Fire were fixtures on the London gig scene, despite still living in Finland, but they don't seem to have done much recently at all - there is a very downbeat biography on their website, which really isn't very optimistic about their future potential as a band, and they haven't played a gig since August. It'll be a massive shame if they don't get back to their previous form, as if they make a new album continuing the improvement the last record had over their debut then they'll definitely become an indiepop big-hitter at some point in the fairly near future.

Cats On Fire – Tears In Your Cup

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Song Of The Day 20/02/2011: Tindersticks - Here

This is a cover of Pavement's 'Here', my favourite track on 'Slanted...', by the Nottingham band Tindersticks. I got into them through the National, when many people started making comparisons between Matt Berninger and Stuart A. Staples - both have deep, tuneful baritones, and although I think the comparison is only really valid for a very narrow period of the National's career, I can see how it started. Tindersticks' first two, eponymous, albums really are excellent (and indeed excellent value for money, each running to around 20 tracks). This is a BBC session from the period, released on various rarities and best-of compilations since. A lot smoother than the original (which was one of the smoother Pavement songs in the first place), I think it's a really good, fairly faithful cover, which manages to uphold the spirit of both the original and the covering bands.

Tindersticks – Here

Live Review: The Loves Retirement Party, 13/02/2011

Last Sunday, the Loves had their last ever gig, splitting up after more than 10 years in which they had released a few albums, played a few Peel Sessions and played many, many gigs. They still hadn't really made much of an impression on the wider music scene, and Simon Love (the frontman, who had seen more than 30 band members come and go over the years) decided to call it a day. They released their final album last month, and thought it would be fitting to go out by organising an all-day gig featuring a lot of their contemporaries the day before Valentine's Day. They put together a really enticing bill of 8 bands, including Comet Gain, Pocketbooks, the School and the Lovely Eggs.

The Werewandas were on first. Obviously very nervous, despite being a collection of people from other London indiepop bands, they played 60s pastiche girl-fronted pop. they were a pretty good way to kick off the whole thing - the band was fairly tight and the singer had a voice that was perfectly suited to the genre,  but none of the songs were especially memorable in themselves.

Micktravis, who used to play with Tompaulin, then came on and performed some acoustic songs about how he couldn't get a girlfriend. I'm a big fan of Tompaulin, and I enjoyed his set, mostly comprising songs about failure with girls and how he missed out on success - fairly depressing subject matter, but that was played with him seeming fairly cheerful, which felt quite odd. He apparently claims to have discovered the Loves - in which case he fully deserves his place in a gig where he didn't quite seem to fit with the rest of the bill.

The Vinyl Stitches, again, were a slightly different type of band to most of the stuff you get at this kind of indiepop gig. They were garage rock plain and simple, with fuzz and howling guitars. Not really my kind of thing, to be honest - the first few songs were pretty good, but they all sounded exactly the same. They had to have a 5 minute break about 2/3 of the way through their set due to having blown an amp, and I don't think many people would have complained if they hadn't come back out afterwards.

There was a marked step up in quality and professionalism before the next band, Pocketbooks. They're a band I really like, and I played their first album to death when I first got it. Quintessentially indiepop, with vocals and piano parts that lend a twee element, they've made some truly brilliant songs, foremost among which is probably Footsteps, an early-set highlight. I hadn't seenthem in a while, not since the Indietracks warm-up gig at the Brixton Jamm last year, where they appeared to be working on a new direction for their second album - that time, I thought they were straying worryingly close to a lounge jazz band. Having seen their newer stuff again, it does sound like they did go through a phase of that kind of thing - some of the songs I didn't know had extremely laid-back jazzy piano parts, with little of the drive that makes Pocketbooks special. However, the songs that they introduced as being 'new' seemed to have gone back to the style of their first album, albeit with the occasional laid-back interlude, and I think it was probably just a phase, and not an entirely new sound for the band. Which is definitely a good thing - it's always good for a band to try new things out and incorporate them into their sound, but last July I felt they'd lost what made them great.

The Lovely Eggs were on next. I didn't know much of them, other than the two closest things they have to 'hits', 'Have You Ever Heard A Digital Accordion?' and 'I Like Birds (But I Like Other Animals Too)'. They're a completely unique two-piece, with utterly bizzare and occasionally touching lyrics sung over a variety of styles of music, even inside single songs. They have a good strand in Brakes-y 20 second vitriol, and are able to absolutely rock out when needed. The set seemed to draw heavily on both their new album, released the day after the gig, and their last effort, 'If You Were Fruit', but I don't think most of the audience really knew many of the songs, at least when they started - lead singer Holly somehow manages to imprint each song on your brain within moments of the introductory drum blasts. I'm not sure how well they work on record, but live they were definitely a lot more fun than just another indiepop band, and got the crowd (which grew considerably during their set) really up for the rest of the evening.

The School were on next, doing a set that drew fairly heavily on Loves covers and less heavily on their album, which I have been obsessed with recently. While this is fair enough at a gig put on especially for the Loves, I'd probably have preferred them to do their own songs, such as my recent Song Of The Day, 'I Want You Back'. Most of the lyrics were fairly muffled at best, and although this is probably the fault of the sound rather than the band, it detracted slightly. They were still great, but it was my first time seeing them live, and I don't think it quite lived up to their recorded material. I'll still try and see them again at a gig more focused on them, though, as the album really is one of my favourite indiepop albums of the last couple of years.

I'd seen Comet Gain fairly recently at the same venue, back at the Winter Sprinter in January. This set was fairly similar - again, they seemed fairly drunk, and there was still no 'You Can Hide Your Love Forever', although they did seem to be closer to playing it this time, seemingly only held back by not actually being able to remember how to play it. There was less of the stage banter this time, as presumably they did not want to steal the Loves' thunder, but it was a solid set that further cemented their place in my brain as one of the quintessential London indiepop bands.

The Loves finally made it to the stage at about 10:00 and rattled through a fairly typical set. There were many 'extras' sued, with a (pretty much completely inaudible) string section and the backing dancers the band had at Indietracks last year brought on to add excitement. Fortuna Pop!'s Sean Price was brought on to be the 'Jesus' figure. There was a definite party vibe, with the band all swigging sparkling wine. To be honest, there isn't really much to say about the gig - it was ace, and exactly as I (and probably everyone else) expected - it was good enough to make you really disappointed they're splitting up. It's easy to understand why they are, though. Fundamentally they had nowhere left to go, and they just didn't really have the audience - the video posted below, their final one, has just 322 views on YouTube at the time of writing. A massive shame.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Song Of The Day 19/02/2011: Bob Dylan - Blind Willie McTell

I'm currently having a weekend of listening to nothing but Bob Dylan, so I though today's song had to come from somewhere in his extensive oeuvre. This is probably the most well-regarded bootleg-only track ever, by any artist. In the early 80s, Dylan had done 3 albums in a row dealing with largely Christian themes, and had therefore sunk slightly off the radar of the mainstream rock critics. 1983's 'Infidels' was his return to secular songwriting, but was found fairly flat and lifeless by many of his most ardent fans, and really has not stood the test of time well. And this song, a song that would be the crowning glory of pretty much any artist bar Dylan, was left off the album.

Apparently he just didn't finish it. Whatever the reason, he seems to have re-assessed the song since the album was released, it featuring regularly in his live sets as a full-band version. It was finally given a release on 1991's Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 collection, opening it up to a wider audience, and has since been covered by a variety of artists and discussed by a variety of critics, who put it up there with the most famous songs he has written. There are a few other versions available, with different arrangements, but I think this original one is the best.

Friday, 18 February 2011

First Thoughts: Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

Well, everyone's been going crazy online for the release of the new Radiohead album today - I'd be interested to know how many man-hours have been wasted looking up news on and listening to the album - It won't have reached the apparent $120m dollars that Google's stunt of putting a game on its homepage cost the world last year, but it can't be all that far off.

And, to be honest, I'm finding it quite disappointing so far. The opener, 'Bloom', starts off fairly like the opener of the last album, sounding exactly how you'd expect Radiohead to start an album. On their last record, however, that angle was abandoned after only 30 seconds, and the 'actual' album started with a lovely, beautiful guitar tone. It was almost as though they were playing with your expectations and then showing that they were capable of doing something slightly more human. This time, they haven't bothered. The whole first side of the album is pretty electronic, with little of the heart of the last record and none of the invention of, say, Kid A. It's just Radiohead-by-numbers, and not even exciting numbers at that. Think 22/7 rather than π.

The second half is definitely an improvement on the first, but again, it all seems like a retread. What seems so far to be the popular choice for 'best track on the album', 'Codex', is pretty much exactly the same as Pyramid Song, only without the interesting time signature - a rehash of a 10-year-old song, from a band held as one of the more groundbreaking of the modern era. Not that impressive.

None of this is to say I dislike the album. I am going to give it a fair few more plays over the next few days, and might come to eat all the words I've just written. 'Separator' is a genuinely brilliant song, as is 'Give Up The Ghost', making for a fantastic end to the album. The pre-released single, 'Lotus Flower', is pretty good and atmospheric too, even though Yorke's dancing does remind me of one of those air-sock-men you get outside garages (this is a reference to the 'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' episode "The Gang Buys a Boat" - definitely worth a watch)

I'll probably do a more full review later. Until then, I'll probably be re-listening and trying to work out how anyone can see this as remotely comparable to the brilliance that was 'In Rainbows'.

Song Of The Day 18/02/2011: REM - Wall Of Death

This is a cover of the Richard Thompson song from 'Shoot Out The Lights', released on the tribute album 'Beat The Retreat' in 1994. Although this was well after REM had abandoned their college rock roots to focus on a more mainstream audience, they really put their old 80s jangle to good use. A much more mellow, laid-back version than Thompson's original, it has taken out all the dual vocals and a lot of the more intricate guitar playing and replaced it with layers of jangle and slide guitar. It really shouldn't work, and to be honest I still prefer the original, but the release of this version as the B-side to 'E-Bow The Letter' has definitely introduced a good few REM fans to the genius that is Richard Thompson, which can only be a good thing.

R.E.M. – Wall Of Death

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Song Of The Day 17/02/2011: Standard Fare - Fifteen

Standard Fare's debut was a bit of a mixed bag, with about half the songs being bona fide pop gems and half being fairly uninspired pop-rock. The first 5 or so songs were probably the strongest opening salvo of any album released last year, and the pick of them was Fifteen, a song about seducing a younger boy from the point of view of the 22-year-old singer, Emma Kupa. The song looks at her struggle between what is morally acceptable and her own desires. Her vocals occasionally interlock with those of guitarist Danny on other tracks on the album (who I think has one of the best voices in modern indiepop - he really should sing more than he does), but here Emma takes the whole vocal line herself, which works perfectly with the jangly, driving backing. Standard Fare have the potential to make a genuinely brilliant second album - their live set is excellent, they clearly have a great ear for melody, and they've built up a cult following in the indiepop scenes of both London and their native Sheffield. They're one of the most fun bands around at the moment.

Standard Fare – Fifteen

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Song Of The Day 16/02/2011: Belle & Sebastian - Jonathan David

Originally released as the title track of B&S's 2001 EP, this was later re-released on their compilation 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds'. Sung by Stevie Jackson rather than Stuart Murdoch, it draws on a Bible story (that of Jonathan & David, surprisingly - a tale of love that had to be hidden) to illustrate the story of a love triangle. The song is from the perspective of a guy who knows he doesn't really stand a chance with a girl, as she is in love with his best friend, but who at the same time is trying to tell himself that it's all OK, and that he shouldn't be angry or stand in the way of the other two. The whole song is basically him trying to reassure himself that everything's OK, and that in the greater scheme of things it doesn't really matter ("It's not as if I'm being sent off to war - there are worse things in this world", "It's not like we'll be parted, it's not like we'll never know love") but fundamentally I think he fails to convince himself - indeed, the song seems to end with the girl and the friend getting married, and them both disappearing out of his life. It's a really great song from an absolutely outstanding EP. Recently they seem to have lost a bit of their lyrical punch, but this song shows just how good B&S could be in their early career.

Belle and Sebastian – Jonathan David

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Album Review: Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

[Sub Pop, 2011]

Mogwai really have been around for a long time, so it's understandable that they might want to stray slightly from the forumla they had perfected by the mid-2000s. Their newer material has featured less of the sprawling post-rock (although the band have always despised that label) and more actual 'songs' in the true meaning of the term. Some of the music here is vintage Mogwai, but there are some surprising departures as well, such as the synth-fest that is 'Mexican Grand Prix', the stright-up indie rock of 'George Square Thatcher Death Party' and the soothing, tender piano-led blues of 'Letters To The Metro'. The album overall is almost tranquil, being definitely the most melodic Mogwai record I've heard, with the only real 'builds'-structured song on the album being the sprawling 'You're Lionel Ritchie' - and even this is more along the Explosions In The Sky route to melodic post-rock for the first half, and then very Spiderland-y for the second half, and not really what you would consider in the 'classic' Mogwai style.

The album really does feel like a new beginning for the Glaswegians. They seem to have been trying to find a new direction, away from the abrasive soundscapes of their early work, for a good few albums now, and only with 'Hardcore....' does it actually feel like this could be the benchmark of later- (or possibly middle-)period Mogwai. You can hear how they got here from 'Young Team', with a few moments, especially in the second half of the album, that sound like vintage Mogwai - it seems like a culmination of all their past work. They're one of the few bands still around from the mid-90s who manage to keep themselves sounding fresh, still sounding like they're challenging themselves to expand their sound. They could even expand their fanbase with this - it's probably more accessible than any other Mogwai record, despite the lack of much in the way of vocals, and is in places genuinely tender, but still retains the spirit and fire of any of the band's releases.

Song Of The Day 15/02/2011: BARR - The Song Is The Single

BARR is the stage name of Brendan Fowler, one of the regular members of the LA DIY collective based at The Smell, alongside more widely-known artists such as No Age, HEALTH and Mika Miko. This song came out about 3 years ago, and was released on his 2007 album 'Summary'. It gets a bit 'meta' in places - basically a song about itself ("Everyone known rock 'n' roll is the language of night, but this got made in the day, it was bright. The drums are a lot looser, like falling apart, and the bass is a scratch on your skin"), as well as the process of making the song and touring, complete with direct Pavement references ("The conduit is cracked but at least it's for sale. Sorry, Steve, I had to say it"). The lyrics really are the reason to listen to this song, alternating between funny, clever and, strangely, informative. Completely based around a single drum machine loop and a very unexciting bass part, it is unashamedly basic ("You said you wanted pop but instead you got this. Oh my God, what do you do?") but gradually builds, introducing more instruments and more interesting story-based vocals. In that way, I suppose its kind of like a manic, slacker, one-man-band pseudo-rap version of Hey Jude. But only a crazy person would describe it like that - Hey Jude is boring, oversentimental chart-fodder, and this is brilliant.

BARR - The Song Is The Single

Monday, 14 February 2011

Song Of The Day 14/02/2011: The Loves - Xs & Os

In an 'apt' move, as today is Valentine's Day, I thought I'd put up a song by the Loves. They played their farewell gig last night, so as of today, they are no more (at least until the 2024 reunion tour). I'll be doing a review of the gig - which featured 8 acts, including some of my favourite twee-, indie- and garage-pop bands - at some point fairly soon. This song is one of my favourite of theirs, and was the song that first got me into them when it appeared on the Fortuna Pop! compilation, 'Be True To Your School'. The Loves are very much a 60s revivalist band, but this song sounds more like an Apples In Stereo song than anything else. The playful riff, a very basic structure, and backing vocal 'ooh!'s make this a (fairly throwaway, admittedly) pop classic.

The Loves – Xs And Os

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Song Of The Day 13/02/2011: The National - Lucky You

The National only really started being talked about on the international scene in the wake of their critically-lauded third album, Alligator, and since then have progressed even further, culminating (in the UK, at least) in 3 quickly sold-out dates at the massive Brixton Academy (one of which I attended). But back when they were still just bankers in New York releasing tehir own records, they put out some astonishing stuff. Their first album has flashes of brilliance (such as '29 Years', the song that later morphed into 'Slow Show' from Boxer), but was slightly undermined by the feeling the band wasn't taking itself that seriously. Their second record, 'Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers', didn't suffer at all from that - it's hard to imagine a more serious-sounding song than the opener 'Cardinal Song', with it's refrain 'Never tell the one you want that you do; save it for the deathbed, when you know you kept her wanting you'. I absolutely love the whole album, which showcases some of the things the National used to be really good at before their sound got a bit homogenised on the last album or two - it has probably my favourite 'shouty' National song, Available, and closes with one of my favourite slow introspective songs from any artist, Lucky You.

Basically a piano-led ballad about the fall-out of a breakup, there really is a lot crammed into this fairly stark, basic song. It seems to me to be addressed to a girl that the singer has broken up with - the girl has moved on, and Berninger hasn't, despite trying. Lines like 'You're too smart to remember' and the title sound incredibly sarcastic in Berninger's trademark baritone drawl. There's a darker side too, with the first verse seeming to be set right after the breakup - Berninger sounds like a fairly standard stalker in this. The song progresses, however, right through to the last verse, where Berninger has possibly mellowed, despite his obviously intense remaining feelings, to a place which is much more emotionally stable, albeit much sadder. The lines 'You clean yourself to meet the man who isn't me, you're putting on a shirt - a shirt I'll never see' offer some kind of recovery, while admitting that recovery is a long way off.

The recording I've given below is the one from the Daytrotter Session they did back in 2007. The whole thing is worth listening to, and the version of 'Slow Show' is excellent. I've chosen this over the album version because I think it's slightly cleaner and more intimate, and works better as a stand-alone track than the album version.

The National - Lucky You

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Song Of The Day 12/02/2011: The School - I Want You Back

Some great modern tweepop today. Very stereotypical, breathy female vocals, with a lovely melody. Not clever, but very, very good. They've obviously been listening to a lot of the Beach Boy's earlier records, but then again who hasn't? This is the sort of song that makes me despair that more people don't know about this kind of band. It's so radio-friendly, and I've never played it to anyone who didn't enjoy it, but I really can't see The School ever getting remotely big.

The lead singer is also in the Loves, a band who are celebrating their last ever gig tomorrow with an indiepop all-dayer at the Lexington. Definitely drop in if you can - as well as the aforementioned headliners, there's an amazing, very long lineup of current indiepop bands. The School, Comet Gain, Pocketbooks and The Lovely Eggs will all be playing, and it's going to be fun.

The School – I Want You Back

Friday, 11 February 2011

Song Of The Day 11/01/2010: Sad Day for Puppets - Sorrow, Sorrow

Today's song comes from the new Sad Day for Puppets album, and is out on 7" as a single on Sonic Cathedral as well. The lyrics are seemingly a farewell to sorrow, but there's the same undercurrent of delicious melancholy in the chorus and the chiming guitars which characterises most Sad Day for Puppets songs. Really nice harmony vocals too.

I saw them the other day at The Social, and they were really good, although unfortunately Anna had a sore throat. They're much heavier than on record, which I think is probably a good thing. And for a shoegaze/indiepop sort of band, they really do love their pick slides and noisy transitions. But then, who doesn't? Try to see them live next time they come over.

Sad Day for Puppets - Sorrow, Sorrow

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Song Of The Day 10/02/2011: Slow Down Tallahassee - Tallahassee Bop

Slow Down Tallahassee are a female-fronted indiepop band from Sheffield. They released their debut a few years ago, a vaguely dark electronic-tinged pop album that owed a lot to later Tallulah Gosh (and pretty much all of Amelia Fletcher's later work) both vocally and instrumentally, and have just announced the release of their second (and final) album, 'Curly Cuh'. I haven't got a copy of that yet, but I'm going to share this highlight of the first album with you. There were a ludicrous number of catchy hooks all over the record, and this song features some of the better ones.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Song Of The Day 09/02/2011: Scotland Yard Gospel Choir - Then And Not A Moment Before

Proper American indiepop. The lyrics are sung to a runaway father who has left his family and small children for a life of luxury - an example being 'So if you must know how I feel about you, the truth is I can do without you, I'm far better off when you're far away' - but I'm pretty sure it is physically impossibly to feel miserable (or even anything other than ludicrously happy) to this song. This is from the band's self-titled second album, which is slightly hit and miss, but this song makes up for a lot of the filler. The band were involved in a car crash recently and it isn't really clear if or when they'll be releasing anything else, especially until they have all finished rehabilitation, the costs of which they are currently raising through benefit concerts and the like. Get well soon to all involved.

The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – Then And Not A Moment Before

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

New Band: Weed Hounds

Weed Hounds take a few ingredients that I always enjoy (sweet-sounding female vocals, blissed-out guitar, the odd noisy breakdown and a healthy dose of feedback) and mix them together into a kind of indie-poppy shoegazy concoction. And, much like a good pasta sauce, the whole is a lot more than the sum of its parts. So far they've released a couple of singles (one of them a split with similarly slack rockers Dude Japan) and a four-track demo, but they've just played what they described as their last show before finishing their lp, which is coming out soonish on Katorga Works.

Entirely predictably, I'm really excited. I love this stuff. The demo's great, four songs (which don't all sound too similar either) combining classic nineties broken-glass fuzz with understated twee-ish vocals. Sort of like a bubblegum version of the Swirlies, or what it feels like when you wake up still a little bit drunk, but it's a Sunday so it doesn't matter.

You can download the demo in its entirety from their tumblr.

And here's a video of them playing in a barn (with pretty excellent sound for a live youTube vid):

Song Of The Day 08/02/2011: Semisonic - Brand New Baby

Continuing with yesterday's unashamedly fun, unintelligent pop, here's late-90s Minneapolis band Semisonic. This song was on the very first CD I ever owned, 'Great Divide', and really set the tone for my listening for the 12 or so years since then. I'm pretty proud that I was listening to this kind of stuff at the age of 10 - I still regularly crack out this album and the follow-up (Feeling Strangely Fine) as they are pretty much the best you can get from the 90s college pop-rock genre. They don't necessarily fit thematically with the rest of the music on this blog, but everyone has songs like this that remind them of their childhood. In fact, this is going to be a special 'Song Of The Day' - instead of (or possibly as well as) listening to this, go and listen to the first record you ever bought. Or any other song you were listening to at the age of 10 or so.

Semisonic – Brand New Baby

Monday, 7 February 2011

Label Minded

Part of my role on this blog is to shamelessly plug other things. So in that spirit here's a link to a radio show I did at the weekend with my friend Rob. We choose a record label for each show and play through some of our favourite releases chronologically, in the (usually forlorn) hope that we might learn something about the label on the way.

This week's was about Kranky records, but Punch Table readers might be more interested in the previous one, which was about indiepop heroes K out of Olympia, Washington.
Either way, you can listen online at Mixcloud.

Song Of The Day 07/02/2011: Comet Gain - You Can Hide Your Love Forever

This really is one of the all-time great pop songs. The theme is well-trodden, with artists all the way back to the Beatles having taken on this subject, but Comet Gain are the match of any of them. This single was recorded fairly early on in Comet Gain's second incarnation, and is featured on their recently-released Best Of, Broken Record Prayers. Everything about it is amazing, with the jangly introduction and bass building to a pop explosion which gradually dissipates over the next 3 minutes. It fundamentally has spirit in both the heartfelt lyrics and the music, something missing in so many songs these days. David Feck's voice really isn't the best, but something about his slightly out-of-tune warbling really fires me up. In the words of Silver Jews, 'all my favourite singers couldn't sing'.

Comet Gain – You Can Hide Your Love Forever

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Song Of The Day 06/02/2011: Jim James & Calexico - Goin' To Acapulco

I decided this blog needed more food for the eyes, and not just the ears, so for today's song I've chosen one from a film, and am posting the relevant clip as well as the mp3. It's My Morning Jacket singer Jim James' version of Dylan's 'Goin' to Acapulco', from the Dylan biopic 'I'm Not There' of a couple of years ago. The film itself is stunningly good, provided you're a fan of Dylan who already has a pretty good idea of the stories of his 1960s heyday - the much-publicised gimmick of getting 6 different actors (and actresses) to play the various sides of his character leads to a fair bit of jumping around in the story. Some of the characters work better than others - the 'poet' element, 'Artur Rimbaud', barely gets any screen time at all, and the Heath Ledger character who portrays Dylan's personal life doesn't really work very well. Most of the film is brilliant though, with my favourite parts being the ones focusing on 'Woody Guthrie', the small black folk-singing child, as well as obviously Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Dylan as he appears in 'Don't Look Back' and 'Eat The Document'.

This song comes from the 'Billy The Kid' section near the end of the film, where Richard Gere portrays Dylan the outsider, focusing on the Americana of the Basement Tapes period. The film cuts to Jim James and Calexico performing the song at a funeral in the Old West, and it really is a stunning performance. Here's a clip on YouTube.

The song predictably featured on the soundtrack, in a longer version. Here's the mp3.

Jim James & Calexico - Goin' To Acapulco

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Song Of The Day 05/02/2011: Low - Try To Sleep

A couple of days ago Low finally released the first song from their first new album in a long time. 'C'mon' will be released in April, which I'm now really looking forward to - I don't know why, but I just assumed Low had finished producing new material, and I have no idea why. It didn't even cross my mind that they might bring a new album out, as their last, 'Drums & Guns', came out before I started listening to them, and they never seem to play live in London. If this first new track is anything to go by, it'll be much the same style as the rest of their output, but that isn't a bad thing. It's no 'Dinosaur Act', but it's definitely got something.

I decided I should probably put up the embeddable download widget they have to get your email addresses onto their mailing list, rather than just giving the mp3 straight.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Song Of The Day 04/02/2011: The Raincoats - Fairytale in the Supermarket

The Raincoats were one of that great rush of post-punk bands that started releasing records in abut 1979, and they're one of my favourites. Taking the iconoclastic DIY attitude of first-wave punk but leaving behind the musical one-dimensionality, what you get on this, their first single, is a kind of Velvet Underground-inspired violin squall, mixed with boundless energy and enthusiasm and wonderfully naive-sounding vocals. They're such an important precursor for so much of the indiepop that we all love today.
I'd recommend the whole of the self-titled album, one of the very best post-punk releases. It apparently took some agitation from a certain Kurt Cobain to get their albums reissued, but whatever you think of him, he had great taste.

Raincoats - Fairytale in the Supermarket

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Big day for exciting release announcements

I've only just logged onto my computer this evening, and have already seen two announcements I've been waiting for for a while. Firstly, there's more news on the forthcoming POBPAH record, with a new song available to stream. Read the interview and listen to 'Belong' here. They have quite a good long interview, even mentioning my 'Song Of The Day' from a week or so ago, 'Gothenburg Handshake'. The song didn't have much subtlety, admittedly, but now they've confirmed my suspicions as to what it was about. Hmm.

To be honest I don't think the new song is their best, but most of what they've released has grown massively on me, and all the other songs I've heard from the new record have been brilliant, so I'm not worried. Here's the soundcloud player for 'Belong'.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart "Belong" by Slumberland Records

The other good thing was that Help Stamp Out Loneliness finally have a release date for their debut (May 2011). With them having been around for what feels like forever, it'll be great to finally hear proper versions of the demos that have been circulating for a while. Of the three songs streaming on their Bandcamp, I only know the last, 'Record Shop', which has been in heavy rotation on my stereo ever since I got their demo CD back at Indietracks 2009, and was one of the songs that fuelled my transformation from indiepop fan to indiepop obsessive. The other two are equally good - 'Cottonopolis and Promises' is exactly the kind of thing I'd expect from HSOL's previous output, and takes full advantage of D. Lucille Campbell's Nico-esque vocals, and 'Angelyne' is slightly more twee and jangly than most of their stuff, which is a good (if fairly unsurprising) transition, and suits them well.

Song Of The Day 03/02/2011: Guided By Voices - My Valuable Hunting Knife

I've been listening to a lot of GBV recently, so thought I'd share one of their songs. This is from the 'Tigerbomb' EP, but was also previously released on their major label debut 'Alien Lanes'. The song was rereleased because Pollard thought that it, along with GBVs biggest song, 'Game of Pricks', would benefit from a more 'professional' recording technique. It's classic GBV - the driving rhythm section, the monotonous lyrics and guitars that somehow sound really tuneful despite not really having a tune. I really recommend getting into GBV - their 32-track compilation is probably the best place to start, as their albums can suffer from a lack of self-editing, but Robert Pollard is capable of crafting some absolutely amazing rock songs.

Guided By Voices - My Valuable Hunting Knife

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Song Of The Day 02/02/2011: The dB's - Black And White

A great slice of early 80s janglepop. As contemporaries of REM when they first got started, I'm surprised the dBs never went on to greater success - this song is very radio-friendly, being very obviously heavily influenced by early Big Star. This song was written by Peter Holsapple, who was responsible for the poppier songs by the band, and who shared songwriting duties with the more experimental Chris Stamey. The band are cited as a major influence by many of the later indiepop/jangle bands, such as Teenage Fanclub, and the record still sounds fairly fresh now, with little of the overblown production that normally marred 80s releases.

The dB's - Black And White

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Song Of The Day 01/02/2011: The Manhattan Love Suicides - Clusterfuck

The Manhattan Love Suicides were a brilliant band, playing a mixture of twee and noise pop until they sadly broke up in 2009, splintering into the Blanche Hudson Weekend and the Medusa Snare. This is probably my favourite single of theirs, found on their 'Burnt Out Landscapes' compilation LP. They are cited by the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart as the band that inspired them to take up music in the first place, so they must have done something right.

The Manhattan Love Suicides - Clusterfuck

Also, I've got a Spotify playlist of all these Songs Of The Day up and running (complete with a few spoilers of what's coming up). Here's a link.

Songs Of The Day