Thursday, 31 March 2011

Song Of The Day 31/03/2011: Les Surfs - A Present Tu Peux T'en Aller

Today I'm starting off a week of SOTDs that will be completely comprised of French pop. There is a massive amount of brilliant stuff from the country, as you would expect - from the Ye-Ye of the mid-60s, through punk, right through to the electronica of today, they have a whole, completely seperate musical culture that really needs exploring. Only a very small amount of what has come out of France seems to have made it to mainstream British ears - Serge Gainsbourg is by far the most famous French rock star, but most British people would be hard pressed to name 3 songs by him. Considering how much closer we are to France than the US, it really is quite surprising. I'm going to be spending the next week trying to get to grips with some of it, and will try to share the results with you here.

The first song is, hilariously, not by a French band. Les Surfs were a family from Madagascar who had massive amounts of success in France, and over quite a lot of the rest of Western Europe, in the 1960s. Originally coming to France as cultural ambassadors at the behest of their own government, trying to spread the music of the newly-independent Madagascar, they fitted right in to the burgeoning Ye-Ye scene (that we might go into at some point later this week). This is my favourite song of theirs. The title translates to 'Now you can leave' and the song is about letting a lover go away, hoping that they will realise the error of their ways. I think. My French isn't exactly spectacular, running to little more than 'Je m'appelle Toby'. Thank you, Google Translate.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Song Of The Day 30/03/2011: Seapony - Emma's House

Today's SOTD is a lovely cover of the Field Mice by Seapony, a chilled-out fuzz-twee band in the same vein as a million other bands around at the moment. It really has got to the stage where the bands really start to merge into each other - I'd be really hard-pressed to differentiate between a lot of them. Seapony were always a bit of a stand-out band, though, with their debut single 'Dreaming' being one of the best tracks to emerge from this kind of fuzz recently, and this latest release holds up to the expectation.

It's from a compilation released on Bandcamp to celebrate the twentieth birthday of 'Magic, Revue Pop Moderne', a French music magazine, and is currently available to download free. There's some really interesting stuff on there, but I think this is my favourite track. The original song is one of the quintessential Sarah tracks, the title track on the debut EP of their most well-known band, yet somehow doesn't sound quite like the stereotypical Sarah release, with a slight edge that a lot of stuff released on that label just lacked. The cover is fairly faithful to the original, but ever so slightly more powerful and driving, which I think works well.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Song Of The Day 29/03/2011: A.A. Bondy - Witness Blues

I first came across A.A. Bondy nearly three years ago, supporting Okkervil River at the Borderline. A complete throwback to the days of the early singer-songwriters, he had more than a shade of early Dylan to him, without being anywhere near close enough to the master to sound like a cheap imitation - despite his acknowledgement of his roots, most obvious on the night during an inspired take on 'John The Revelator', his bluesy fingerpicking style and tone of voice is instantly recognisable. Very Southern in style, his music often takes on overtly religious topics, but it is the sheer intimacy of it that really stands out for me.

The day after the gig, he released a Daytrotter session, which does a really good job of capturing his live sound. I highly recommend both his albums, especially the first, but this is probably the best place to start for a new listener. He used to be in a band called Verbena, which I investigated and found incredibly dull, only turning to solo work after that band fizzled out in the early 2000s. He released 'American Hearts', his debut, on Fat Possum in 2007, and followed it up with a second in 2009. Hopefully the pattern will be repeated and we'll get a new record at some point later this year.

I've picked my favourite song from the session to be today's SOTD. 'Witness Blues' is, to me, a song about the difficulties of protest, with it's chorus "once there was a time to join the army, and once there was a time to hear the news, and once there was a time for easy silence, but now the jury waits for you”, but it is fairly ambiguous. Whatever it's about, it's stunning.

A.A. Bondy - Witness Blues

Monday, 28 March 2011

Song Of The Day 28/03/2011: Lower Dens - Rosie

Lower Dens hail from Baltimore, which seems to be a pretty happening place for shoegaze and dreampop type stuff at the moment. I've been really enjoying their debut album, Twin Hand Movement, recently. It mixes the beautiful, husky vocals of Jana Hunter with intricate guitars and sometimes krautrock-y drum patterns. I'm seeing them live this week as support for Deerhunter, which I'm looking forward to a lot, and there's certainly something of Deerhunter circa Cryptograms about them.

This song's probably my favourite from the album, a slow-burn intro which gives way to one of the more melodic vocal lines on the record, but, really, they're all good, and the album has a very cohesive and nocturnal ambience which is really nice. Check it out! I might do a review when I get round to it, although it's been out for a while now.

Lower Dens - Rosie

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Song Of The Day 27/03/2011: The Babies - Breakin' the Law

The Babies are something of a lo-fi supergroup, comprising one Vivan Girl and one Wood. But the one album they've released doesn't sound all that much like either of those bands do. Instead, it takes the kind of boy-girl vocal setup we all love and mixes it with some sixties-sounding rumble. It's hardly innovative, but they've got some cracking songs, and it's a fun distraction from their other bands, so it's fine.

I saw them live the other day and this was the highlight. It's an instant classic of its kind, with a stupidly catchy tune and suitably inane lyrics. Ace!

The Babies - Breakin' the Law

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Song Of The Day 26/03/2011: MInutemen - My Heart and the Real World

Continuing my "fight" against the twee orthodoxy on thepunchtable, here's some first-wave American post-punk (or post-hardcore or whatever you want to call it). Minutemen are an absolutely unique-sounding band, fusing punk attitude, political sloganeering and guitars that sometimes recall funk as much as they do conventional hardcore. They also always worked with impressively DIY ethics, which I suppose we can all aspire to. I've been re-reading Azerrad's great book "Our Band Could Be Your Life" recently (itself named after a Minutemen lyric), and the chapter on Minutemen's really good. Maybe tonight I'll watch the Minutemen documentary on DVD.

This song's off the classic Double Nickels on the Dime, and doesn't really need too much explanation. The way D. Boon comes in with the lyrics, subverting the stupidly catchy pop riffs with jammed-in words, is pretty much textbook Minutemen and pretty much perfect.

There's a good video someone made using this song on Youtube, which shows a guy eating a sandwich with relish (i.e. enthusiastically. I don't know if the sandwich has relish in it).

Minutemen - My Heart and the Real World

Friday, 25 March 2011

Song Of The Day 25/03/2011: The Fiery Furnaces - Here Comes The Summer

It is a spectacularly nice day in London today, and has been proper spring for a couple of days now. Which means there is only one choice for today's song. It's about waiting throughout the winter and spring, having to 'wait until it's June' for the good weather and all the associated lazing-in-the-park, ice cream, Pimms, girls in flowery dresses etc. It's from the Fiery Furnaces collection of singles and B-sides, called 'EP', that is clearly the best thing they've ever released.

'I've been waiting since I don't know when
And now it finally seems about to start'

The Fiery Furnaces – Here Comes The Summer

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Song Of The Day 24/03/2011: Blitzen Trapper - Furr (and some Rainn Wilson too)

Blitzen Trapper are one of those bands I don't really 'get'. 'Wild Mountain Nation', their 2007 album, and 'Furr', from 2008, are two records that I really should love - hyped up as across between Southern rock and Pavement, in my opinion they just don't have enough quality songs for a band of their standing.

That said, this is an absolutely brilliant song. Many has been the time I've put the album in, got to track 3, replayed it about 10 times and then just given up on the album. It's got a kind of Okkervil River-y guitar part, with the capo on really high to make the guitar sound more like a ukulele, if anything. The vocals are understated, the lyrics are great. If BT had written much more like this, they'd be one of my favourite bands. As it is, I could easily live without anything they've done, except this.

Blitzen Trapper - Furr

As a bonus, here's a brilliant short film featuring Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office), playing a warped version of himself, and Blitzen Trapper. I'm not going to spoil it by telling you what happens, but the title is a bit of a clue. And it ends with a version of 'Furr'!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Song Of The Day 23/03/2011: Jay Reatard - Always Wanting More

A slight departure from most of the stuff I psot here today - it isn't often that you can use the phrase 'proper riffage' about stuff on this site. This song, from Reatard's 2008 Matador singles compilation, is probably the best thing I've heard from him. A lot of his stuff can sound a lot like early Supergrass, but this is more of a straight rock track.

I was shockingly late getting into Jay Reatard, hearing very little of him until over a year after his death in January 2010, but I've been making up for lost time recently. I have to say I prefer his singles compilations to his albums - the Matador one in particular really is a stunning collection of songs - but pretty much everything he released as a solo artist is brilliant.

Jay Reatard – Always Wanting More

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Indietracks Lineup Announcement Later

At 7pm today, the first announcements will be made for this year's Indietracks. I'm pretty excited.

They have a new rule in place this year stating that no band who played the festival last year is allowed back this year. I'm not sure how I feel about this - it'll rob the festival of some of the bands who I regard as pretty intrinsic to the whole thing, such as MJ Hibbett (who has been pretty vocal about this move on his twitter and blog) and the Smittens, as well as huge swathes of the UK indiepop scene. Pretty much daily I think of brilliant bands who I'd expect to play, but who won't get the chance this year, and I'm reminded just how good the lineup was last year (Allo Darlin, Shrag, Standard Fare, the Felt Tips, Ballboy, Specific Heats, Blanche Hudson Weekend, etc. etc. etc. etc., not even counting the headliners).

Then again, this will mean a hell of a lot of new bands get to play. Bands that I haven't necessarily seen multiple times in London pubs! Also, quite a few bands who didn't play last year could be back, such as Pocketbooks, Cats On Fire and Help Stamp Out Loneliness. There are still going to be a lot of familiar faces, onstage and off.

Apparently they have a very exciting headline announcement too. I have genuinely no idea who it could be - in the past, they seem to have gone for one older band and one newer band (Teenage Fanclub/Camera Obscura, Primitives/POBPAH, Wedding Present/Los Camp!) so, barring a return for anyone who has played the festival before, here are some possible combinations, ranging from the distinctly possible to the crazily optimistic.

  The Vaselines / Jens Lekman

The Vaselines are pretty certain to play at some stage, in my opinion, with Indietracks pretty much made for them. They'd be a fairly unexciting headliner, though - I'd expect them to take the Pooh Sticks / Art Brut place headlining the indoor stage. Jens Lekman is more of a possibility, being a fairly big name who is still at home in the indiepop scene. I'm not his biggest fan, but I can't deny that he'd go down amazingly on the outdoor stage.

  Tullycraft / Aberfeldy

I really love both these bands, and Tullycraft would definitely fit the bill as headliners, being one of the few bands that would unite pretty much everyone at the festival. Aberfeldy I'm not so sure of - they're brilliant, especially on their debut album, but I'm not sure if they're big enough for a main headlining slot.

  Television Personalities / The Aislers Set

I saw the TVPs supporting Titus Andronicus a few months ago and Dan Treacy was still surprisingly sprightly. They're also very much in the same bracket as the Wedding Present, previous headliners. A decent shout, as are the Aislers Set, a band most indiepop fans seem to love.

  Hefner / Belle & Sebastian or Yo La Tengo / Magnetic Fields or Pastels / Apples In Stereo

We can dream. Plus, if B&S play then Daniel Kitson will probably do a set. And that'd be AMAZING.

My personal prediction is Tullycraft / Jens Lekman. But then again I have no basis for that whatsoever.

Song Of The Day 22/03/2011: Pavement - Box Elder

Pavement were one of the most influential bands of the 1990s, with a roster of incredible songs that helped to separate indie rock from the dirge that grunge had become. However, in many people's opinions, they peaked on just the second track of their debut EP. 'Box Elder' includes everything that made Pavement great - the slacker ethos, the clean, cutting guitars, the ironic lyrics (I'm guessing that Stephen Malkmus wasn't really thinking of running away to Box Elder, MO - it looks like a fairly boring place), the lazy drumming, the fact that the tempo is ever-so-slightly too fast for them to keep up with it.

There have been many cover versions of this over the last 20 years, perhaps the most interesting coming from the Wedding Present, Los Campesinos! and Surfer Blood (with a very weird recent remix by Blackbird Blackbird also in the equation). The original is still clearly the best though.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Live Review: Woods @ Bush Hall, 13/03/2011

Bush Hall is a strange place for indie rock gigs. Its plush carpets, elegant chandeliers and tasteful lighting are a startling change from the usual London circuit of darkened basements and the upstairs rooms of pubs. But that's OK, because Woods don't really play indie rock, and Bush Hall suited them suprisingly well. Walking in there feels like travelling back in time to an era when bands used to play concerts rather than gigs, when someone like Bob Dylan on his first electric tour could take his confrontational show to the Royal Albert Hall. In fact, the whole gig felt musically and atmospherically like we'd been transplanted back about 40 years (with the exception of the 95% check-shirted crowd). All three of the bands playing are steeped in musical tradition, managing to escape their influences to more or less exciting effect.

For the two support bands, The Doozer (shit name) and Spectrals (better name), everybody stayed sitting down around the sides of the room. That might seem a bit dispiriting for the bands, but The Doozer played the gig sitting down anyway (also in the slightly bizarre combination of smart shirt/v-neck jumper and tracksuit bottoms). Idiosyncratically English-sounding folk rock, with just electric guitar and bass, they were inoffensive enough, but equally there's nothing particularly interesting either: the overall effect was of a band who've listened to a few too many Steeleye Span records and don't really have the songs to do much interesting of their own at the moment. I wasn't really sure why they'd be touring with Woods, but it was made clearer later when the bassist reappeared to play drums with the headliners on a few songs.

I saw Spectrals a couple of weeks ago supporting the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, when they were pretty much ruined by awful sound (they seem to be the current go-to support band for touring mid-level American indie bands). This time they were much better, and their woozy, deeply 60s-influenced pop songs came across well. They combine classic song structures with warped-tape guitars and reverbed-out vocals, which a lot of bands are doing at the moment, but I get the feeling it's not quite there yet song-wise. They're still a young band though, and I wonder if pretty soon they might start to really write great songs to go with the arrangements, which are good. Apparently Louis Jones, who pretty much is the band on record, just finished self-recording an album, and the songs he played from it sounded interesting, so I'll reserve judgement until I hear that.

I suppose in a way that's what Woods do too, combining songs which could have been written in the first summer of psychedelia with tape effects and home recording. But the way they pull it off is much more fully realised, creating a whole aesthetic with their cover art and self-run record label as well as with the music. There's also the fact that Jeremy Earl, guitarist and songwriter, can really sing, a high keening falsetto which sounds like no-one in modern music as much as it does Richard Manuel of The Band. In fact, The Band as of about 1967 is the comparison that really leaps to mind with Woods in their more song-based phases: the frantic, brittle guitar solos on latest album highlight (and one of the best songs of the gig) Blood Dries Darker could easily have been played by Robbie Robertson, and the overlapping harmony vocals work together like Manuel's with Rick Danko. The whole way they approach performing live, too, feels like a basement jam session: instruments are swapped, people come onstage to play a few songs before leaving, arrangements are worked out on the fly (I'm pretty sure from the way he was talking to the guitarist that the drummer had never played the encore song before). But they manage to pull it off with such stylistic coherence that it never gets self-indulgent.

More so than either of the other bands playing (which I guess is what you want from headliners) Woods manage to actually engage with musical tradition, and add their own spin to the classic sounds they borrow. A lot of that's due to tape operator G Lucas Crane, who fleshed out the sparse arrangements with subtle loops and harmony vocals, getting his fuzzy, tinny vocal tone by singing through one ear of the pair of headphones which he wears over his face like a mask. Only a couple of times the noise really made itself felt, invading the songs and twisting them out of shape, but it didn't need to. Mostly this gig was Woods in pastoral acoustic mode, concentrating the crowd's attention on Earl's guitar and voice. Live, stripped of some of the sound collages and tape hiss which colour their records, they sounded more open and sunny, which favoured the more poppy end of their songs (Suffering Season, also from the most recent album At Echo Lake, was another highlight). It's a shame to miss some of the darker and more mysterious elements of the sound (although they did play the long psych jam September with Pete), but it worked well live.
Walking out of the venue at the end into the cold streets of Shepherd's Bush felt slightly strange, like being pulled back into the present from the timeless and comfortable cocoon Woods create. But for that hour, you could forget you were in London in March and get lost in their atmospherics. And isn't that enough from a pop band?

Song Of The Day 21/03/2011: Helen Love - Debbie Loves Joey

This 2004 bubblegum punk single by Helen Love tells the story of some young lovers who pretend to be CBGBs posterboy-and-girl Joey Ramone and Debbie Harry whilst riding the school bus, drinking in the park and other teenage pursuits. It's fairly saccharine and glittery, but the sheer energy the band play with carries it over the line from annoying to brilliant. It's pretty twee in quite a few ways, following formulae written by BIS and other mid-90s bands, but it really works.

Helen Love are from Wales, and have been around for a while now. Lead singer Helene Love claims to only listen to music by the Ramones, and whether this is true or not, it would explain where their sound came from. This is by no means the most Joey Ramone-referencing song in their ouevre - indeed, Ramone liked their early singles so much that he let Love sing backing vocals on one of his later albums.

Helen Love – Debbie Loves Joey

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Song Of The Day 20/03/2011: Woods - Blood Dries Darker

I'm not sure why, but I overlooked Woods when they first started getting attention a few years ago. I didn't eventually get round to really listening properly until their last album, At Echo lake, released last year. A huge error. Woods got lumped in with the lo-fi scene, but I'm not sure that's fair: rather than pop cloaked in layers of fuzz which was the stock-in-trade of Times New Viking etc., Woods' aesthetic is more mysterious, folky pop songs which just happen to be recorded in bedrooms rather than studios. It's a good match though: the tape sounds and strange noises which hover over some of their songs really give Woods a unique sound, dark and intimate (and utterly suited to their band name).

This song's the opener from the last record, and showcases the band in fine form. I saw them last week and the comparison really struck me with The Band from around the Basement Tapes era: the frantic guitar solos on this could easily have been played by Robbie Robertson, and the high falsetto is almost Richard Manuel-esque. There's also the sweet and summery harmony vocals. I'll probably review the gig pretty soon (when I get around to writing it up) so watch out for that. I hear that Woods (whose work-ethic is admirable) have another new album on the cards for the not-too-distant future as well.

Woods - Blood Dries Darker

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Song Of The Day 19/03/2011: The Remains - Don't Look Back

The Remains were one of a number of mid-60s bands that took a lead from the British Invasion, most noticeably in this case the Stones, and turned it into the first wave of garage rock. In a way very like the first wave of punk in the late 70s, very few of the bands were very proficient musically, but some of the songs they wrote were genuinely brilliant, little poppy tunes that were obviously from the 60s but that were infused with the energy of youth. Although they obviously took their cues from other, more mainstream bands, they can't really be accused of copyism in the same way that a lot of today's bands are - they were some of the very first bands producing this kind of thing.

Barry Tashian, lead guitarist and singer, had spent 1964 in London, soaking in the music of his heroes, before forming the band back in his native Boston. They had limited success - appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and a slot opening for the Beatles' final US tour might imply they were a much bigger band than they really were, and they split up after the release of their first album. They have since developed a bit of a cult following though, with various critics describing them as 'America's greatest lost band', but are probably still best remembered for this song, one of the highlights of Lenny Kaye's seminal 'Nuggets', a compilation I suggest absolutely anyone should check out.

The Remains – Don't Look Back

Friday, 18 March 2011

Album Review: The Strokes - Angles

[Rough Trade, 2011]

As with a lot of people of my generation, I grew up loving the Strokes. 'Is This It?' was released when I was 13, and 'Room On Fire' when I was 15 and just beginning to find my musical feet. These two albums, especially the second, will always be on or around my stereo, as they form part of my musical history. And it wasn't just me - pretty much the whole world of music was thrown off its axis by the release of ITI, as it showed that, firstly, there was still a place for this kind of upbeat, grubby, genuinely exciting rock 'n' roll band in the public consciousness, despite them being surrounded by the likes of Travis and Starsailor. Any guitar band that was big in the UK around that time seemed to hold 'The Bends' up as the height of musical achievement. The Strokes and, ironically, Radiohead themselves changed all that, with the Strokes retreating to 60s-inspired garage rock and Radiohead exploring the more electronic end of the spectrum. Admittedly, both these movements have since gone massively off the rails, but I think 'mainstream' indie rock was, for most of the last decade, in a lot better shape than it was in the 1990s.

'Angles', the groups first album since the disappointing 'First Impressions Of Earth', had the potential to be a disaster. All five members have had extensive other work since the release of the last album, with 4 of them forming side projects or releasing solo albums. An article in Pitchfork from a couple of weeks ago did not fill me with much hope - it seems from the interview that the band aren't really back together properly, and are more just a group of musicians laying down a backing for Casablancas to record his vocals over. The opening lyrics, 'I'm putting your patience to the test', are bound to be interpreted as a sort of confrontationalism that wasn't part of their sound back in the day. The album was recorded in an angry environment, and this is a much angrier album than they've released in the past.

One of the trademarks of the first three Strokes albums was how they kicked in. All 3 start off with a quiet, rhythmic guitar part, before the rest of the band kick in with a clean, quintessentially Strokes-y riff that sets you off on the album so well that you could almost write them yourself from there on in. When Machu Picchu kicks in, it's obvious this is a very different album to anything the group have released before, with a similar kind of structure, but with a very different sound. The guitar tones and Casablancas' vocals have been shot through with an 80s disco vibe, leading to a very, very different overall sound. Many people have said how this album is a return to the Strokes of old, but in truth I can't imagine an opening that was less Strokes-y whilst still obviously following on from their previous releases.

Musically, it is all pretty different. Albert Hammond Jr.'s guitar parts have become much more complex and intricate over the last 10 years, which in theory is a good thing, but it means that they've carried on the 'wall-of-sound' approach of 'First Impressions Of Earth', not really giving the songs time to breathe. Part of the joy of songs like 'Someday' was the way they seemed to keep propelling themselves despite not really being that frenetic. Now Hammond can play fast, he does, which isn't a good thing. When they try to get as close as they can to the feel of 'Is This It?', they write some good songs, such as 'Taken For A Fool', but there are none here that would have made the cut onto either of their first 2 albums.

The best song on the album is 'Under Cover Of Darkness', the lead single and second track. It's more like the Strokes proper, albeit more like their hard-rocking 3rd album phase. A vaguely reggae-y lilt to the guitars gives off some of their vibe of old, feeling genuinely fun and bouncy, 'like a puppet on a string' (I'm still trying to decide in my own head whether that lyric is actually a Sandie Shaw reference or not). It's definitely the Strokes' best single since 'Reptilia', but, fundamentally, it sounds like they were actively trying to make a song in the same vein as 'Last Nite', and there is absolutely none of the effortlessness that made their debut sound so refreshing. It sounds like they've tried incredibly hard to make an album they didn't really want to make. The fact it was written by 5 different people, not really coming together shows in the disjointedness - not only does it not really flow at all, but I find the different parts of the songs don't really flow well into each other, especially on album closer 'Life Is Simple In The Moonlight' - the album really is the sound of a fractured band. They'd been away for 5 years, but that clearly wasn't enough - although they claim to have already started work on album number 5, I think it would be best for all concerned if they just waited until they genuinely wanted to make another one. They've all got other things to do, and they can all churn out imitations of their earlier work individually until then. Some of their solo stuff has been pretty good - try this and this - and manages to recapture for more of the spirit and feeling of The Strokes 1.0.

All this sounds like I'm really giving the album a bad review - I'm not. It is an enjoyable album to listen to. But it could, and possibly should, have been so much better. They're never going to release another album as refreshing as 'Is This It?', and it is impressive that they haven't just stayed in the framework of their first two albums, but I can't see this album really winning over anyone who has never heard any of their older stuff.

Album Review: Dream Diary - You Are The Beat

[Kanine Records, 2011]

Dream Diary sound exactly like a Sarah Records band. Exactly. This whole review will be trying to determine whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. If you already have strong views on Sarah-style jangly guitars, sickly-sweet melodies and breathy vocals, you don't really have a reason to read further - it's already clear whether you'll like it or not.

The supposed story of how the band met also seems to be trying to live up to the indiepop ideal. Apparently the lead singer and guitarist walked into each other on the street in New York, both dropping their iPods, only to realise that they were both listening to 'The Queen Is Dead'. Whether you believe this or not, it's a good story, and one that illustrates that from the very start the band were built on a fairly standard set of influences - you can hear all the various quintessential indiepop touchstones in the album somewhere, from the Ronettes to the Field Mice.

They do it all pretty well, and despite the first few listens falling into the standard Sarah trap and lapsing into aural wallpaper, with no real differentiation between the songs, after a while you really get to know and love pretty much everything on here. Young Veronica and El Lissitzky are probably my favourites, but they all have the same structure and ingredients, with just the melodies and lyrics changing. The guitar tones just don't change at all for the whole 30-odd minutes, which means as an album as a whole it is definitely missing something - there are definitely echoes of POBPAH's debut on here, but it has nowhere near the scope that that record had. It's quite hard to make out most of the lyrics - there's one much-repeated line on the album closer Audrey Of Spirits that I'm absolutely certain is 'sucking my penis' but that surely can't be - which only adds to the overall wallpaper-ness. You just can't deny the quality of the harmonies, which is all this record really aims for.

Fundamentally, you'd probably be better off listening to Primal Scream's 'Velocity Girl' 10 times in a row instead. But that could be said about a lot of albums. Dream Diary have managed to craft a fine album, continuing a very obvious tradition, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's never going to be anyone's favourite album, but I can't think of anyone not enjoying it.

Song Of The Day 18/03/2011: Camera Obscura - Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken

I hesitated before making this my SOTD, as it is one of the more well-known songs by one of the most well-known current indiepop artists, and I don't really know who it could be that would be reading this blog and hadn't heard it a million times before. But it really is such a great tune that I can't resist it.

Yet another great Glasgow indiepop band (that city really is some kind of freak of nature), Camera Obscura were formed in 1996, the same year and city in which Belle & Sebastian released their debut album. They are clearly a similar band in influences and ambitions to Murdoch's gang - he even produced their first album, and apparently they used to rehearse in the church where he was the caretaker. They have released 4 albums in total, which have been both critically acclaimed and have sold fairly large numbers - their last, 2009's 'My Maudlin Career', reached the top 40 of the UK mainstream pop charts, which really is an achievement in the world of indiepop.

This song was the first track and lead single from their third album, 'Let's Get Out Of This Country'. An answer song to Lloyd Cole's 'Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?', it is a fairly standard indiepop hit, but is really made by the way the string section works with Campbell's voice, the organ and the horn section. When indiepop bands are given budgets big enough to expand their sound like this, this track (and the accompanying video) are what they come up with, and it should happen more often.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Song Of The Day 17/03/2011: The Felt Tips - Bought & Sold

The Felt Tips are one of the latest bands in the line of Glasgow indiepop that goes back right to 'Velocity Girl'. Very Smiths-influenced in the guitar sound, the main point of interest is their lyrics. Vocalist Andrew is a supremely good storyteller, and this early single, about a trip down to the 'bright lights of London', is no exception.

They played Indietracks last year, meaning that they can't this year due to the managements controversial policy of not booking any band for this year's festival that played in 2010. I'm going to address this in a later blog, when I've seen what they've actually done for the line-up, but I think I can reveal now that, in my opinion, the festival will really miss the likes of the Smittens and MJ Hibbett. If you need to get your Felt Tips fix, though, they're playing tomorrow (Friday) evening with Pocketbooks at what looks like an ace new club night, 'Which Way Is Up' at the Wilmington Arms in Clerkenwell.

The Felt Tips – Bought And Sold

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Song Of The Day 16/03/2011: The Smiths - Girlfriend In A Coma (demo)

Today's SOTD is Smiths demo that has only fairly recently come to light, but that has been generating a fair number of blog posts etc. all over the internet. It's from a compilation of previously unreleased demos and instrumentals that was ripped and posted onto the internet just before Christmas. The full thing is available to download here, and there's a really good track-by-track of it here.

Billed by some as 'The Smiths go reggae', this early version of 'Girlfriend In A Coma', one of the high points on their best album, is actually more like first-wave ska, at least in the guitar part. The lilting, Caribbean feel to it gives the song an even more marked contrast between the mood of the lyrics and the music, which is what this song is all about. It seems to sit back a lot more than the officially released version, which I don't think works quite as well, but it's definitely an interesting take. Strange that it came from a man who was once quoted as saying 'Reggae is vile' to the NME (although this could well have been tongue-in-cheek, admittedly - the music press are no better than their more tabloid-focused cousins at reading subtext).

The Smiths - Girlfriend In A Coma (demo)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Live Review: Josh T Pearson @ The Slaughtered Lamb, 23/02/2011

To be honest, I approached this, Josh T Pearson's first solo gig in the UK since the recording of his solo album, with some trepidation. The album's been getting rave reviews from the critics, but it's a daunting listen: unremittingly bleak and sparse, seven songs in over an hour, five of them over ten minutes. I foresaw a long evening ahead.

But first (after arriving at the impossible-to-find Slaughtered Lamb) was Jack Cheshire, who played at our very own UCL Union for a Folkulture night back in the sepia-tinged days of 2007 or 2008. I remembered him being pretty good, and that's exactly what he was again this time. Solid folk-inflected singer-songwritery stuff, but without any real substance or anything of particular interest. The kind of thing that you can literally find on any street corner from a busker in a stupid wooly hat, although since I last saw him he has released an album, so presumably some people must like him a lot. Anyway, after a few songs I started looking around at the audience who'd packed the basement of the pub instead, which was quite interesting in itself.

Here's the elephant in the room: Josh T Pearson was the founder, guitarist and songwriter of Texas band Lift to Experience, who released one of the most critically acclaimed records of the 2000s in "The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads", and one of my personal favourites. Lift to Experience's only album, it alternates between reflective, minimalist guitar and almost spoken word narrative and some of the loudest, most intense firestorm guitar playing I've ever heard, tied together by the concept of an utterly bizarre apocalyptic narrative in which Texas becomes the Promised Land. But Pearson abandoned the project in about 2002 and hasn't played any of their songs since. What were we going to be in for tonight?

To his credit, Josh Pearson didn't shy away from his past history, perhaps recognising that nearly all of the crowd were there because of his previous band. Instead, although he never named them, his "old, noisy rock band" felt like a constant presence, with Pearson more than once apologising for coming back "ten years too late, and with a country record". Because for certain what we got wasn't anything like Lift to Experience in their feedback-laced peak, although it did perhaps share some of their religious fervour.

Josh Pearson shuffled onto the "stage" (actually just a corner of the room) in all black and with a very unkempt and long beard, looking like nothing so much as an Old West fire-and-brimstone preacher. There's definitely a certain mythology surrounding him personally, especially given his semi-dissappearance and refusal to tour since the breakup of LtE, and that's part of the persona which he exudes when he gets onstage. And though the songs he played fit that persona, his onstage banter really didn't. This was a very strange gig.

I'd estimate he spent maybe half of his onstage time actually playing songs, beautiful and hushed and spiritual. Although the new album's full of epics, he only played a couple of them, and the ones he did play he heavily edited, cutting out at least a couple of verses. "Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ", plaintive on record, became a pointed personal rebuke, full of religious preaching as well as regret, bringing the crowd to a truly awestruck silence. He followed that by introducing a Boney M cover ("Rivers of Bablyon").

The other half of the set consisted of Josh telling some truly terrible jokes (he's a genuinely funny guy, although I'm not sure how much of that is because of the incongruity with his appearance and songs), and then having a ten-minute conversation with someone in the audience about the evils of the fur trade. He seemed to know the guy pretty well, and they've had this conversation before. "I watched the videos you gave me," he claimed, "they just made me hungry". A Texas boy through and through.

Disappointingly, it was a really short set, but he still played my favourite from the new album, "Country Dumb", as well as a couple of the songs which he used to play a few years ago, now seemingly abandoned. Less pure country folk than his newest stuff, but with the same intensity that's really his strength, "The Devil's on the Run", complete with mass crowd vocals, was a fitting end to a good (if slightly odd) set. Hopefully it won't be ten years before the next album.

Song Of The Day 15/03/2011: Withered Hand - Religious Songs

Today's song is by Withered Hand, an artist I'd not really heard much of before last week, when he mentioned on his twitter that he'd been contacted by the organisers of Indietracks. I'm always eager for any Indietracks news, so I thought I'd check him out, and I'm really glad I did.

He's released a few EPs and one album, Good News, which has this recording of today's song. He plays a kind of folky indiepop, all high, hushed vocals and strummed guitar, but the real attraction here is the lyrics. Hilarious, poignant and deeply moving, at times in the same song, this one has some of the most quotable lines I've heard in ages. "How can he really expect to be happy, when he listens to death metal bands?".

I'm now kicking myself for not having got into him sooner, as he's played in London pretty recently. I hope the Indietracks rumours are true!

Withered Hand - Religious Songs

Monday, 14 March 2011

Song Of The Day 14/03/2011: The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic

The New Pornographers are a 'supergroup' that were formed from many members of the Vancouver indie rock scene back in the 1990s. Their debut album, 2000's "Mass Romantic", was one of the more important records of the last decade, mainly due to the fact that it was the record that triggered the explosion of Canadian indie rock over the border into the United States, allowing such seminal early 2000s bands as Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade and recent Grammy winners Arcade Fire to take on the world. It really is scary to think that just 10 years ago, in a pre-'Is This It?' universe, this kind of stuff was regarded as very much outside the mainstream, and a band like this getting any attention at all was something that just didn't happen.

Of course, the New Pornographers (and many other artists inspired and influenced by them) went on to make a lot of music that was better than this album, which as a whole hasn't stood the test of time very well. The first track on it, however, is an absolute banger, a quirky power-pop classic that takes full advantage of Neko Case's spiky vocals.

The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Song Of The Day 13/03/2011: Crystal Stilts - Shattered Shine

It's been a pretty long time since Crystal Stilts' first record. In that time, there have been some changes: they've lost a drummer (who now leads Frankie Rose & The Outs, probably about as big at the moment as CS themselves) & turned up the gain, and the whole scene which spawned them has really changed too. They released a 7" last year which showed a lot of promise for the new stuff, but one single and a couple of other tracks in two years is still a fairly low work rate for an indiepop band.

But their second album is coming out very soon, coinciding with a gig in London on the 30th (supported by Punch Table favourites Comet Gain), so it seemed like a good time to revisit that first album in preparation. I played it a lot a couple of years ago, and I still really like it, especially this song. The version here (since the first record isn't on Spotify) is from their very first release, the Crystal Stilts EP, which the lead singer Brad was supposed to send me but never did. But that's another story.

If you want to hear a taster of the new record, my friend Rob previewed one of the songs on onethirtybpm.

Crystal Stilts - Shattered Shine

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Song Of The Day 12/03/2011: Paris Motel - After Wanda

A couple of years ago there was a fashion, possibly led by Arcade Fire, to get as many people on stage as was physically possible. Paris Motel, a very classical-influenced indie lounge-pop act, were probably the best at that I've seen - with up to 15 musicians on stage at any one time, when playing very small venues in the top floor of tiny Whitechapel pubs, they really made everyone feel like a genuine part of the performance. I've chosen a video of this song, to try and capture the feel of seeing them live. Amy May, frontwoman, viola player and primary songwriter, has an absolutely stunning voice, which works perfectly in the context of her songs, which are mostly reflective and winsome. The music, which is gentle and in some places pretty twee, is both a solid backdrop for the vocals and beautiful in itself.

Paris Motel haven't done much in a while, as May has been busy touring and recording with a variety of other artists, but apparently she has two whole albums of covers of songs by artists such as Captain Beefheart, Blondie and Talking Heads that are currently in the mixing and finishing-up stage. I can't wait.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Song Of The Day 11/03/2011: Oupa - Forget

Yuck's Daniel Blumberg is having a very busy year. Fresh from releasing his main band's excellent debut album last month, he's releasing his first solo album later this year. Stylistically it is a lot mellower, sounding much more like the 'Yu(c)k' version of the band that released an acoustic cassette last year. Indeed, I'm beginning to think of it as a replacement for the 'Yu(c)k' venture - in fact, the EP can now be found on Oupa's SoundCloud. I can't help think that this is a way to release that kind of hauntingly melodic song without being surrounded by the scrutiny and pressure that a new Yuck (or even a Yu(c)k) release would bring. It even has the same kind of artwork as the main band.

The one track revealed to the world so far is 'Forget', an almost ghostly piano-led ballad that is genuinely stunning even on first listen, and it is easily the equal of anything on the aforementioned EP. He's got a couple of London dates lined up (as well as a few over in the US, including a SXSW showcase) and I'm definitely going to try and get to at least one of them.

Forget by oupa

Album Review: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong

[Slumberland / Fortuna Pop!, 2011]

The new Pains album is finally available to stream! I've embedded it at the bottom of the post, if you haven't already heard it.

As a whole, the record is about social misfits, and how there is 'hope' for them, about how there is a place for everyone. It goes into this subject so much that you could almost call it a concept album. The title, 'Belong', is the perfect word to sum this up, the title track is a great opener, its chorus setting up the singer as someone who 'just doesn't belong'. Track 2, 'Heaven's Gonna Happen Now', has been played live for a while, with its wobbly trumpet-like synth refrain at the side of the verse and stunningly good lyrics about abandoning the family home and moving to 'another town', expanding the boundaries of your life and finding a place for yourself. 'Heart In Your Heartbreak' has been around for a while, and my love of it is well known to readers of this blog, at least. It is more of a standalone song, in my mind - lyrically, it is a bit of an outlier on the album.

'The Body' is the first departure from the Pains norm, coupling a vocal melody that invokes 'Atmosphere' by Joy Divison and lyrics about being uncomfortable in your own skin with synth arpeggios and a layer of fuzz. It, as with the next few tracks, is more of a laid-back wash - more like 'Stay Alive' than 'Come Saturday', say. In itself, I'm not sure of it as a track - it doesn't really do very much. But then again, neither does the next track, 'Anne With An E', and I think that is probably my favourite song on the album. It is another song that contrasts singer Kip Berman's new life with how he used to be, presumably when he was in the late teens - 'The posters on the wall that were our only friends, their lives we never knew, but oh how we imagined'. The guitar tones on this song, and the synth sheen, are absolutely stunning - even without any lyrics, this could be an incredibly affecting song.

'Even In Dreams' is more of a classic Pains song, with quiet verses and a singalong chorus (I can see this song being very good live, along the same lines as 'Young Adult Friction' and 'The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart') sitting on top of a layer of soft guitars and punching drums. More of a straight love song, it still focuses on the differences between the singer and the rest of the world ('Yeah, there's nobody like you, is that why they don't like you like I do?') but this song and the last show that he is beginning to carve out a niche in the social spectrum of the kind he could only imagine back when he was an outcast somewhere where he 'just didn't  belong'.

'My Terrible Friend' is a welcome return to the upbeat dancey fuzz-pop. It is, again, ostensibly a bit of a departure from the theme, but shows how much the character from 'Belong' has changed over the course of the album - the line 'Everyone is pretty and fun, everyone is lovely and young, everyone is gentle and gone, but everyone’s just everyone' shows a marked change in point of view, and is a kind of summation of the whole album up to this point. Also, and this is a very important thing, this song is just incredibly fun - I think I might have understated this element of the music so far, but TPOBPAH really are one of the most enjoyable bands to listen to around at the moment. They're able to get you thinking about their lyrics, and they have the occasional introspective song, but by and large the driving drums and fuzz just make you smile from ear to ear.

'Girl Of 1000 Dreams' is the one song on the album that hasn't really clicked for me yet. It is slightly grubbier and coarser than the rest of the album, and Kip tries out a more venomous singing style which I'm not sure I like. I can see why it's on there, and it's definitely not bad enough to be skippable or anything, but I can't say I'd recommend playing it to anyone to get them into the band - the melody doesn't really flow as well as most of the tunes on here, and the guitars seem to be missing something.

The penultimate track, 'Too Tough', sounds like a return to the Pains of old, with the introductory churning chords seemingly straight off their debut album. it reintroduces the 'Anne' of 'Anne with an E', this time with her seemingly stuck in a bad relationship. Again, it isn't one of the more memorable songs on the album, which definitely peaked a few tracks ago. The same is true of the closer 'Strange', which has all the raw ingredients of a great album closer, lyrics that sum up the album as a whole coupled with trebly, euphoric backing. As with the debut, the last track is the closest the band gets to actual shoegaze. Still, it feels a bit unsatisfying. But none of this is to detract from the sheer quality of the first 7 songs, and any of the last 3 would be shining lights on many other quality albums.

The band brought in Flood and Alan Moulder to produce, and it has definitely produced a more polished feel. This can often take away from something that sounded as raw as the debut album, but I think here it has just refocused their songs from dirty, fuzzy guitars to having Peggy Wang's keyboards and synths at the front of the mix. Which works very well. Despite this being my most anticipated album in a long time, I'd say it has exceeded my expectations, with lyrics that are a step up from anything they've done before and a theme that makes the album work as more than just a collection of individual songs. The worst you can say about it is that it tails off a bit towards the end, with the last 3 tracks not really up to the stellar standards of the first 7. Best of the year? It's only the 11th of March, I can't say. But if it isn't, then 2011 will have been a good year for music.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Song Of The Day 10/03/2011: Sea Lions - Good Feelings

Sea Lions are an odd band. On the surface they seem fairly similar to a lot of what has gone before, with lo-fi production, jangly guitars and a vaguely surf-pop feel. However, they have a few traits that separate them from the pack, not least the audacity to release an instrumental as the A-side of their first single. This was the B-side, a short, infectious slice of teenage energy. The production standards go beyond even lo-fi, with a very amateur feel, but I think this is part of what gives the band their charm - they sound like exactly what they are, a few guys having fun. A perfect 'band-next-door'. Which is a phrase I've just invented, and will be using much more often.

The National release bizarre new video

The last few videos by the National have seemed to try and portray a more playful side to the band, at odds with their fairly morose public image (although in my opinion it is the wit and light-heartedness in the lyrics that makes them the band they are). The last video, for 'Terrible Love', was essentially just various shots of them having fun. Here, they have gone for a more storytelling approach, enlisting John Slattery (better known as the 'Stirling' of Stirling Cooper Draper Pryce) and Kristen Schaal (Mel from Flight Of The Conchords) to tell the story of forbidden love between the President of the USA and one of her bodyguards. Unfortunately for Slattery, Schaal (as the President) visits some Eastern European country and falls for the head of state there after watching him fight a man dressed as a bear. I'm guessing this is a parody of Putin's barechested hunting heroics, but I'd like to think the odds on Obama doing the same thing must be pretty long.

The National

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

New Band: Yearbook Committee

Yearbook Committee are a blues-inflected folk collective from Indiana who have been playing together since 2009, releasing an EP and a full-length album in the time since. The album got a very limited physical release last week, although it is also available on their Bandcamp. They use a variety of (mainy folk-oriented) instruments, sometimes supplemented by weird things like buckets and sheet metal. They have a massive variety in sound - some of their songs are fun, bouncy, lo-fi singalongs, some are more in the Sufjan-y fingerpicking mould and some are more in the British folk tradition of simple instrumentation and dual harmonised vocals. This could be the year they get slightly more well-known - they've got the tunes for it, and have secured themselves a much-sought-after spot as one of SXSW's official 'showcased artists'.

I've included two tracks, one to showcase their 'fun' sound ("We Let Our Grades Slip") and one to show what they're capable of when they put their minds to more introspective, intellectual fare ("We've Got a History of Ruining Things").

Yearbook Committee - We Let Our Grades Slip

Song Of The Day 09/03/2011: American Football - The One With The Tambourine

Back in the distant past, the word 'emo' didn't have the dreadful connotations it has now. And I can guarantee that, even at the mention of that eyeliner-fuelled genre, a lot of people will have stopped reading this. But back in the early 90s, the word 'emo' meant this kind of twinkly, intricate, rhythmic indie rock.

Cap'n Jazz were probably the primary exponents of that kind of emo, with a slightly more shouty style and punk ethos. Their drummer and vocalist Mike Kinsella, one of the leading lights of the Chicago indie scene for the last 20 years, formed various bands after their breakup in 1995, one of which evolved into the more laid-back American Football. They weren't around for long, releasing an EP in 1998 and a single full-length in 1999, before moving on to other projects (Kinsella now plays on his own under the name 'Owen'). The recordings they made have been critically lauded ever since their release, with the album especially being lauded as an influence by a growing number of bands.

This song was the first one on their eponymous EP, and is probably my favourite of theirs. The few lyrics there are aren't as cryptic as some of the band's other songs, but are still open to interpretation. They are, however, fairly depressing (fairly predictably for a song classed as 'emo', I suppose, rightly or wrongly). Musically is where the song excels - it is absolutely lovely, with chiming trebly guitars and soft but incredibly precise drums.

American Football – The One With The Tambourine

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Song Of The Day 08/03/2011: Help Stamp Out Loneliness - Torvill & Dean

Help Stamp Out Loneliness' debut album has been a long time coming, with them not having released any new tracks at all since I first saw them back in Summer 2009, but apparently they were selling copies of it at the London Popfest last week (although I couldn't go, due to being too slow at buying tickets). They're also gradually working their way through all of the tracks on their BandCamp. It's shaping up to be a classic. They offer something vastly different to most bands in the indiepop scene, in that their lead singer, D. Lucille Campbell, sounds more like Nico than anything remotely C86y. I know this comparison has been made a thousand times before, but it really is applicable.

This track was one of their first singles, released a couple of years ago. I have to say I don't really understand the title - any figure skating references must be oblique at best, and I haven't detected any. Lyrically, it's a regret-tinged love song. Musically is where it really shines, with the opening jangley chords setting the scene perfectly.

Help Stamp Out Loneliness – Torvill and Dean

Monday, 7 March 2011

Song Of The Day 07/03/2011: Dum Dum Girls - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

This is a Smiths cover from the Dum Dum Girls' newly released 'He Gets Me High' EP. The original is one of the most widely known Smiths tracks, and by extension making a cover version is an extremely brave undertaking - there are a lot of rabid, vocal Smiths fans out there who would not hesitate to point out any minor imperfections in the song. While staying close to the original enough to please fans, however, the DDGs manage to use their harsher vocals ('harsh' here is not a criticism, it just means that they have little of the croon of Morrissey) to unlock a waspish quality that I didn't realise the song had. They have put a lot of energy into the recording, and it really does stand up alongside the very best Smiths covers I've ever heard. And there are a lot of those.

I'm never really sure whether I really like the Dum Dum Girls or not. Their debut album was, in theory, perfect for me - lo-fi, girl-fronted fuzzpop. It just lacked enough proper tunes, really, which is one thing a band like this has to have. I suppose, actually, that's why they're so successful at this cover - now all they need to do is write some material of their own that can stand up alongside this. Or, of course, just do more cover versions.

Dum Dum Girls - "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" (The Smiths) by AwkwardSound

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Song Of The Day 06/03/2011: Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Her Hair Hangs Long

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci were a late 90s/early 00s Welsh psych-folk band, beloved of John Peel, much like previous SOTD-ers Melys. They had a longer career than that band though, releasing 9 albums and various other records. This song is from their 2001 record, 'How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart', by when, by and large, the psychedelic touches had disappeared from their music, leaving just pretty acoustic folk-tinged indiepop like this. A pretty, meandering melody line partnering fairly basic lyrics about how the singer is scared of losing his happiness, there's nothing groundbreaking here, but I really like it.

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci – Her Hair Hangs Long

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Song Of The Day 05/03/2011: Big Star - The Ballad Of El Goodo

I'm very sorry. I don't have time for a full blog today. I have a very full Saturday, and somehow failed to keep up any kind of a 'post backlog'. Therefore, today is just going to be me posting a song. Amd what a song! Big Star have been cited as a major influence by so many bands, yet they got pretty much no recognition when they were together. This is a song from one of their 'pop' albums, '#1 Record'.

Big Star - The Ballad Of El Goodo

Friday, 4 March 2011

Song Of The Day 04/03/2011: Good Luck - Man on Fire

For a large proportion of my music-listening life I've thought of the words "pop-punk" as taboo. Dirty words. Words that should not dare to speak their name. (I blame this largely on the rubbish Blink 182, Green Day etc.).
How wrong I was. Since getting more into stuff like classic American post-hardcore and midwestern indie, my ears have really been opened to how good this stuff can be. The best of it mixes punk ethos and energy with great pop melodies and lyrics: in that sense it's really not that far from some of my favourite UK indiepop (I tend to like the noisier end of things more anyway). So I'm sorry about that.
Anyway, Good Luck are one of my favourites of this kind of sound. I can't remember how I first heard about them, but their first album is one of my most played records of the last year. Twinkly guitars, sing-along lyrics, nice melodies, and it's a really positive and cheery record generally. Their lyrics might put some people off, but I like them (especially stuff like the clever wordplay at the beginning of this one).

So yeah, even if you think you don't like "pop punk" at all, give this a try. Hopefully you might be pleasantly suprised. If not, feel free to abuse me in the comments.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Song Of The Day 03/03/2011: Ballboy - Avant Garde Music

Not actual avant garde music, no: this blog isn't about to take a sudden turn into covering only the solo trumpet work of Rhys Chatham, for example, as amusing as that might be (mentioned since he's playing a show at Cafe Oto this month). Rather, Ballboy play singer-songwriter inflected indiepop, in that it's very much focused on Gordon Macintyre's lyrics and vocals, with often quite simplistic musical backing. They've released some wonderful records over the last few years though, and they were one of the highlights of last year's Indietracks festival for me.

Anyway, this song isn't one of their most emotionally charged or anything like that, but it does communicate an important and universal human truth: people that work in record stores are always elitist, and they always like music that's more unlistenably avant-garde than you do. This song's a kiss-off to that whole culture, and does come up with the undeniable comeback that no matter how good their music taste is, fundamentally they still work in a record shop. Also the music's energetic and exciting, and the song overall sounds a bit like a Scottish version of "Holland, 1945", which can only be a good thing.

Ballboy - Avant Garde Music

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Song Of The Day 02/03/2011: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I See A Darkness

Will Oldham had been releasing music for a while by the time this was released in 1999, under a variety of different names. This is the title track of his first album under the name by which he is now best known, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. The album as a whole is a stone-cold classic, with the first half being one of the strongest run of songs of the decade. 'A Minor Place' and 'Nomadic Revelry', both fantastic songs in their own right, seem to be building up to an emotional climax, gradually gathering pace, until track 3 hits, when the volume completely drops off, any non-completely essential sound stops completely (an effect he also performs live). Oldham starts off by listing things he likes about life, but states that, even despite all these things, he can't help but see a 'darkness', which he can't save himself from. In the final chorus, he resigns himself to the fact he will probably always feel the same way, but it feels like he's putting this up as a good thing, rather than bad.

Even Johnny Cash's deathly voice couldn't really do the song justice, with his gravelly version, released about a decade ago on 'American III', coming across to me as fairly flippant, not really getting to the heart of the song. When a song can sound more sincere than even Johnny Cash in his own elderly darkness can manage, you know Will Oldham has put absolutely everything into it, and here he has written one of the best downbeat songs I've ever heard. It doesn't sound especially morbid, and while the lyrics themselves are bleak, they aren't off-the-scale - there is definitely a way of looking at the song's basic sentiment 'I'll always be depressed, and need my friends to help me through it' in a positive light, despite the sentiments expressed being, well, depressing. Every single time I listen to this song I come away thinking about it from a different viewpoint - in fact, it's one of those rare songs that you can't really recover from the mental toll of listening to, up there in the pantheon with 'Oh Comely' and 'Heroin'.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I See A Darkness

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Song Of The Day 01/03/2011: Serena-Maneesh - Hear Bleed Philharmonic

Serena-Maneesh are a band from Oslo that have been going for quite a while, without having released much - they've only released 2 albums since the release of their debut EP, 'Fixxations', in 2002. They made enough of an impression with that EP that they managed to get a slightly larger release for their debut album proper, garnering large amounts of praise from sites like Pitchfork and DrownedInSound (although don't hold that against it) and appearing in many end-of-year lists. Sufjan Stevens even collaborated on the album, which was released just a month after '... Illinois'.

This song is from that debut EP, and showcases what they're good at - it is a song that blends dreamy, almost shoegazey, sections with down 'n' dirty garage rock. Obviously, you can hear a lot of My Bloody Valentine in there, but I'd say there is just as much 'I'm Waiting For The Man'-style Velvet Underground throb. They also seem to me to take something from that most Scandinavian of genres, black and/or death metal (I'm not well enough versed in that subculture to tell the difference between the two) - nothing that makes it in any way unlistenable, but there is definitely a kind of tension behind the music (especially in the second half of the song, and more so on some of the tracks on their debut album proper) that you wouldn't get on an American shoegaze album, for example.

Serena-Maneesh – Hear Bleed Philharmonic