Friday, February 24, 2017

40 From 40: 1979

The fifth of the 40 is down, and welcome to one of the great years. Cutting this down to forty was quite the job. As we'll see in future features the end of a decade generally is a good time for upheaval, the notion of the calendar and changing era seemingly bucking people's ideas up, but after the rapid turnover of the previous years 1979 was a year when everything collided, genres that had been just about minding their own business carving their way through the last few years decided to make things more interesting for themselves and even the biggest labels allowed their artists some leeway and creative freedom as everyone tried to work out where these things were going. That led in various directions, as arty kids had pop hits, leftfield songwriters had moments in the sun and new bands emerged with a discordant, fractured, wiry take on their craft and surroundings alike. Punk was thrown off balance for good when its new figurehead Sid Vicious died while its progenitors were already off in different directions, whether the angularities and stop-start existential panic of post-punk or the poppy, even joyful Buzzcocks/Undertones end. Disco partied through what would be the last days of its hedonistic peak even as some started feeling the morning after coming on as Studio 54's owners were arrested and charged with tax evasion and the infamous Disco Demolition Night - the week after which seven of Billboard's top ten were disco-hued - serves as a ridiculous coda for classic rock's fear of a black pop planet, not realising that rap was about to creep up on their shoulder. Britain embraced electropop and the cult of 2 Tone. Family friendly entertainers embraced new studio methods and the outer shell of the clean end of New Wave. Kate Bush was busy just over there reinventing the live experience, then deciding it was for other people to carry on from there. Rock and/or roll itself grew horns and in its various ways gave up Highway To Hell, Overkill and My Sharona. Even AM radio's Fleetwood Mac went mad and made Tusk. Oh, and from July you could if in Japan buy a new Sony product for $150 that played cassettes on a portable device allowing greater personalisation of the listening experience. But that's another story.

So, let's sum all that up in forty well chosen songs of pointillist post-punk, devolved disco, reggae, ska, soul, electro noise, collapsing DIY, warping pop, new wave, New Pop, waifs, strays and Jeff Lynne hopping another bandwagon for no other reason than the ride. Aside from some of our favourite ever albums being represented herein, a few extra notes:
- James Chance and the Contortions brought out a gloriously warped jazz-punk speed freak no wave album called Buy, then recorded an almost entirely separate album as a post-modern disco act, this remix by the future Kid Creole the only track to appear on both and absolutely of a piece with its surroundings.
- Yes, it does go from the Slits to a track from an album that features a Mick Jones song about his breakup with Viv Albertine. But the mix works that way anyway.
- You don't hear much Linton Kwesi Johnson these days, maybe because his albums are, thanks to the great production of Dennis Bovell, submerged in that sonic murkiness dub poetry thrives in; Bowie was a big fan of Forces Of Victory, describing Johnson's as "some of the most moving poetry to be found in popular music".
- Among all the female groups who spiralled off into their own dimensions and leftfield ideas Delta 5 are the nearest misses, never properly capitalising on their first single for various reasons, but that double bass groove is the equal of what Gang Of Four were doing maybe literally down the road.
- Where's Captain Kirk?, a bracing 2:15 blast by a primal punk-pop joker who kept changing the band name, was the first indie chart number one when introduced right at the start of 1980.
- The Monochrome Set, especially in the 1979-1983 period, really deserve more of a hearing.
- Planet Claire now has to carry a writing co-credit for Henry Mancini due to its pilfering of the Peter Gunn bassline.
- The first Madness album is largely fun disposability for dancing to, but Razorblade Alley, a song about - let's not be coy now - catching VD from a prostitute, is an early idea of what they'd become when they grew up.
- Kirsty MacColl should have been big off the bat, which might have ended up putting a different slant on her career given There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop...'s air of novelty and her biggest hits being covers, were it not for a strike at Stiff's distributors preventing the single reaching shops.




James White & The Blacks - Contort Yourself (August Darnell Remix) (from Off White)
Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3
The Sugarhill Gang - Rapper's Delight (from Sugarhill Gang)
Gang Of Four - At Home He's A Tourist (from Entertainment!)
Talking Heads - Cities (from Fear Of Music)
Michael Jackson - Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (from Off The Wall)
Chic - My Feet Keep Dancing (from Risque)
The Slits - Typical Girls (from Cut)
The Clash - The Guns Of Brixton (from London Calling)
Linton Kwesi Johnson - Independent Intavenshan (from Forces Of Victory)
The Specials - Nite Klub (from The Specials)
The Fall - Rowche Rumble (from Dragnet)
Cabaret Voltaire - Nag Nag Nag
Public Image Ltd - Death Disco (from Metal Box/Second Edition)
Blondie - Atomic (from Eat To The Beat)
M - Pop Muzik (from New York London Paris Munich)
Delta 5 - Mind Your Own Business
The Pop Group - She Is Beyond Good And Evil (from the reissue of Y)
The Raincoats - Fairytale In The Supermarket (from the reissue of The Raincoats)
XTC - Life Begins At The Hop
Wire - Map Ref 41°N 93°W (from 154)
David Bowie - Boys Keep Swinging (from Lodger)
Buzzcocks - Everybody's Happy Nowadays
The Monochrome Set - The Monochrome Set
Spizzenergi - Where's Captain Kirk?
The Selecter - On My Radio
The B-52's - Planet Claire (from The B-52's)
Sparks - Beat The Clock (from No. 1 In Heaven)
The Human League - Empire State Human (from Reproduction)
Tubeway Army - Are "Friends" Electric? (from Replica)
Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Green Shirt (from Armed Forces)
Joy Division - Shadowplay (from Unknown Pleasures)
The Jam - The Eton Rifles (from Setting Sons)
Electric Light Orchestra - Don't Bring Me Down (from Discovery)
Joe Jackson - It's Different For Girls (from I'm The Man)
Squeeze - Up The Junction (from Cool For Cats)
Nick Lowe - Cruel To Be Kind (from Labour Of Lust)
Madness - Razorblade Alley (from One Step Beyond...)
Kirsty MacColl - They Don't Know
Dexys Midnight Runners - Dance Stance

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

40 From 40: 2005

There's been a loose theory that the biggest paradigm shifts in music happen in the middle years of a decade. The Fifties invented rock'n'roll itself, the Sixties brought the Beatles and soul, the Seventies prime disco, golden age of reggae and the launch of electronic and punk, the Eighties the Live Aid-aided rise of the megastar, indie, house and video, the Nineties club culture, Kurt Cobain's death, pop as its own construct and Cool Britannia. The Noughties...? Maybe the middle year, the fourth in our series of 40 songs from 40 years, gave us enough clues that this was in fact the self-reflexive era. Digital downloads were included in the chart from April, channelling the rise of the iPod and iTunes, making perhaps the decade's biggest change about the delivery method rather than content. "Teenage girls will lose their grip on the pop scene" wrote the Times, wrongly, maybe because the boys were all playing the newly launched Guitar Hero instead. As if in sympathy Crazy Frog had a number one, while a 34 year old record co-credited to a comedian who played no part in the recording, Is This The Way To Amarillo, was the year's biggest selling single. All of Elvis' number ones were reissued, one becoming the thousandth ever chart topper. The art of the pop single ended not with a bang, but with Digital Rights Management. Take That, Cream and Roger Waters with Pink Floyd reformed, the latter for Live 8, an event billed at the time as a natural contender to Live Aid as pop's greatest ever event but barely remembered now, maybe because Geldof's aim of "awareness" to advertise a protest march was too woolly. Michael Jackson was cleared of child molestation. Kanye West made his first controversial statement about a president. Pete'n'Kate happened.

2005 was also in many ways the online breakout year, as the success of Funeral the previous year was the starter pistol for blogs to not just extend the global boundaries of what drew attention but express excitement about all manner of new bands and increase the rate of hype turnover accordingly. (Hands up who remembers Annuals?) In Britain a combination of analogue (CDs) and digital (a fan Myspace) led to Arctic Monkeys having ever word of songs not yet released bellowed back at them by increasing crowds, leading to a number one debut single. That April also saw the launch of Sweeping The Nation, and apologies right now for the inevitability as the latter third of the survey subset is maybe less an overview of what was going on and more "stuff we like". It happens. Luckily 2005 was a really strong year, so this is a really great playlist, starting with the words "the start", ending with the words "full stop", and in between taking in an especially strong year for the emergent American scene, retro-futurism, heavy poetic literacy, post-rock, alternative vs mainstream in hip-hop, glorious bubbling pop joys and, of course, darkness. The descriptions for each song were taking us far too long to write for little gain - if people want them back we'll do so, especially when we go back a few more years than this and things need actual historical context, but hopefully the songs should sell themselves.




The Lucksmiths - A Hiccup In Your Happiness (from Warmer Corners)
Saint Etienne - Milk Bottle Symphony (from Tales From Turnpike House)
Patrick Wolf - The Libertine (from Wind In The Wires)
Jeremy Warmsley - 5 Verses (from 2006's The Art Of Fiction)
Final Fantasy - This Is The Dream Of Win & Regine (from Has A Good Home)
Dirty Three - Great Waves (from Cinder, Chan Marshall on vocals)
65daysofstatic - Drove Through Ghosts To Get Here (from One Time For All Time)
M83 - Don't Save Us From The Flames (from Before The Dawn Heals Us)
Broadcast - Black Cat (from Tender Buttons)
Prefuse 73 feat. Ghostface & El-P - Hide Ya Face (from Surrounded By Silence)
Kanye West feat. Lupe Fiasco - Touch The Sky (from Late Registration)
M.I.A. - Bucky Done Gun (from Arular)
Amerie - 1 Thing (from Touch)
Bloc Party - Like Eating Glass (from Silent Alarm)
Broken Social Scene - 7/4 (Shoreline) (from Broken Social Scene)
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - In This Home On Ice (from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)
Sufjan Stevens - Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step-Mother! (from Illinois)
The Mountain Goats - This Year (from The Sunset Tree)
Jeffrey Lewis - Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror (from City & Eastern Songs - Spotify version not the same as the album version, annoyingly)
William Campbell & Kevin MacNeill - Local Man Ruins Everything
Kate Bush - King Of The Mountain (from Aerial)
The Chap - Auto Where To (from Ham)
CSS - Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above (from CSS, released in Brazil in 2005 so ner)
Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (from Witching Hour)
Girls Aloud - Biology (from Chemistry)
Doves - Black And White Town (from Some Cities)
Guillemots - Trains To Brazil (from 2006's Through The Windowpane)
The New Pornographers - Sing Me Spanish Techno (from Twin Cinema)
Young Knives - The Decision (from 2006's Voices Of Animals And Men)
The Decemberists - 16 Military Wives (from Picaresque)
Sleater-Kinney - Jumpers (from The Woods)
Spoon - I Turn My Camera On (from Gimme Fiction)
Field Music - If Only The Moon Were Up (from Field Music)
Sons And Daughters - Red Receiver (from The Repulsion Box)
Okkervil River - For Real (from Black Sheep Boy)
Antony and the Johnsons - Hope There's Someone (from I Am A Bird Now)
iLikeTrains - A Rook House For Bobby (from 2006's Progress Reform)
Low - Monkey (from The Great Destroyer)
Sigur Rós - Glósóli (from Takk...)
Brakes - Comma Comma Comma Full Stop (from Give Blood)

Monday, February 20, 2017

STN recommends: 20/2/17

Laura Marling - Next Time

Alright, who decided to leave as a footnote that Marling has called her own label More Alarming? Those are the auspices through which Semper Femina is released on March 10th, which is sounding like her most lucid and intimate work in at least a while, this track in both self-directed visual and lyrical thought dealing with self-entrapment.




Gallops - Pale Force

The second single plus video resembling a malfunctioning Spectrum loading screen from album Bronze Mystic, released 21st April, finds a crushing place between undulating glitchy electronic loops, sub-bass and power chords without falling into murky 'dance-rock' waters.




Maybe Don't - Lightbulbs

When we wrote about the Birmingham trio at the start of the year they were building towards an EP in March; they've just augmented that with a pay-what-you-like double A side, this half of which showcases their scrappy but rattlingly determined, surging sanded down punk-pop.




The Immediate - Light Dimensions

Our friend off the radio Adam Walton passed this one on, which is reasonable given he's in them. Reunited after an initial mid-90s spell of localised following (and supporting the Stereophonics at the gig that go them signed), their angular, harmonic power-pop/new wave/vaguely early 80s mod revival trio dynamics actually seem to fit in better these days. Mold EP, named after their home town and a set of considerations of their shared upbringing, is out 3rd March.




Thursday, February 16, 2017

STN recommends: 16/2/17

Los Campesinos! - The Fall Of Home

A graceful twinkling ballad on dislocation and personal progress, the third track we've heard from Sick Scenes, out February 24th, is described as "an elegy to the home towns left behind". Notably, though, the band's description also states "the lyrics for this song were written at 4am on the 24th June, 2016." So that's a song about feeling out of place in the area where you grew up, written while the album was being recorded in Portugal, at about the time the Brexit vote was being confirmed.




FEWS - La Guardia

It's two minutes of pumping dark shoegaze swirl before the vocals start, and they're not around for long either. That's because everything else in FEWS' first new song since last year's debut album is busy racing for the heart of the sun, taking no prisoners in its wake.




PWR BTTM - Big Beautiful Day

We've never written before about the glam exuberance of the New York queer-punk duo before, but the announcement of a new album, Pageant out May 12th, and its scorching introductory message of exuberant empowerment seems as good a place as any to start.




Deep Throat Choir - Hunter

Their debut album is finally out on Friday, so here's a track that's not on it. Based on a Gertrude Stein poem, it features all the mass harmonising and weaving in and out of each other you've hopefully already come to expect.




Sodastream - Saturday's Ash

They're in London on February 24th as part of Fortuna Pop!'s long farewell, Little By Little is out March 3rd, and before both comes a Simon & Garfunkel-like meditation with what sounds like theremin in the background on the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires, a series of fires in February 2009 that destroyed large parts of the state of Victoria.




The Physics House Band - Calypso

The Brighton trio's senses-screwing mathcore spiralling has been around for a while now - mini-album Mercury Fountain, out April 21st, is their first release in four years and finds them in classic form, never keeping still, ping-ponging all round an ascending centrepiece to sci-fi rush effect.




Beach Beach - Scrolling Down

Shame it's so cold and bedraggled at the moment, because had the Barcelona-based band waited until the summer months they'd have been all over the place with something this gorgeously sun-dappled, all Teenage Fanclub (who they've played with) interplay and wistful, secretly wracked lyrics.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

40 From 40: 1994

And so to the third of our journey through forty years of popular (let's face it, alternative) music in forty songs apiece. This time we focus on 1994, an awkward transitional year at least once Kurt Cobain was found dead. Grunge found itself with nowhere to turn, Britain was still preparing the ground for Britpop's flowering - Parklife and Definitely Maybe didn't just happen overnight - house was evaporating into commercial death and all kinds of things slipped through the cracks only to get stuck 95% of the way through. Goldie, for instance, whose Metalheadz collective attracted much attention and Inner City Life nearly made this list but it sounds slightly more dated than you'd think, and the man himself would before long not become the standard bearer but lapse into Met Bar fame and self-indulgence on a spectacular scale. And it was no good looking at the charts for guidance, this was the summer of Love Is All Around, the autumn of Pato Banton and Whigfield, the spring of Doop and Things Can Only Get Better. Meanwhile someone decided to re-run Woodstock. Yesterday in today, and tomorrow can look after itself. Never mind, Bristol picked up the slack anyway, a few albums emerged that would become enormously influential given time (Weezer another one to drop out of the list late on)




The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Bellbottoms
THE BLUES IS NUMBER ONE! Whether due to the influence of Beck, who guests on the album, or just a sudden post-Cobain feeling the US underground went quite odd for a lot of 1994, and JSBX's mutation from garage blues scrappiness to post-ironic, genre-bounding, ping-ponging cut-up riffs and Spencer's hellfire rock'n'roll preacher act was near the front of the vanguard.

Beastie Boys - Sure Shot
The Blues Explosion toured with the Beasties after Orange's release, which fits even if both are examples of bands going "you thought we were x? Ha, no? Here's all the music we like cut and shut together!" The Beastie Boys had been progressing this way anyway but people were generally still too hung up on Fight For Your Right (To Party) to notice until Ill Communication grabbed hold and refused to let go.

Frank Black - (I Want to Live On An) Abstract Plain
Black Francis had been this way in terms of alt cachet before but was enjoying his own freedom too much to strive for that kind of thing. Teenager Of The Year remains his best post-(original) Pixies album, bringing a melodic strength to Trompe le Monde's sci-fi obsession.

Pavement - Gold Soundz
Meanwhile the slackers were enjoying themselves with their wryness and wordplay. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain drifted away from Slanted And Enchanted's lo-fi business, removing some of the mystery while retaining enough inscrutability and shapeshifting to make these songs sound more difficult to construct than it seems, as legions of impersonators found out in time.

Soul Coughing - Screenwriter's Blues
Or as some may know it, the music behind the aborted Diana eulogy cut-up from Blue Jam. Soul Coughing were a big cult concern for a short period, Mike Doughty's stream of consciousness poetry slipping into sample-driven tracks that weren't quite electronic, hip-hop or jazz despite containing enough elements of each. Doughty has described the band as an "abusive marriage" and hates talking about them these days, but Ruby Vroom is well worth your time.

Stereolab - Ping Pong
AKA Stereolab's reminder that Tim Gane had been in Marxist janglers McCarthy, but now with space age pop and retro keyboards.

Pram - Life In The Clouds
If you don't have Spotify access I'm afraid you'll just have to imagine how it goes from the description. There was a lot of retro-futurism around at the time, and weirdly a lot would come from Birmingham. Before Broadcast, Plone or Novak there was Pram, using pastoral psychedelia, exotica, motorik, unusual instrumentation, children's TV/library/test card music and Rosie Cuckston's vocal style to create bubbling unease.

Arthur Russell - This Is How We Walk On The Moon
Speaking of unconventional unease, Russell's minimalist idiosyncratic disco - this track first released on that year's posthumous Another Thought compilation - makes strange bedfellows work together in search of a common purpose, downcast beats, faithful cello and layered vocal effects sounding like weightless lunar pop itself.

Massive Attack - Protection
The intro is sampled from James Brown's The Payback, maybe the most atypical JBs sample ever made into a hit. Late night ennui from masters of the form, Tracey Thorn elevating the slowly unfolding melancholic weight of the moment.

The Sabres Of Paradise - Wilmot
Sabres Of Paradise seem to be a forgotten part of Andrew Weatherall and Jagz Kooner's careers but for a while back there they threatened to change things, the morning after the acid house explosion the night before. The ambient breakbeat calypso/dub symphony was an actual top 40 single, somehow.

Kylie Minogue - Confide In Me
Let's get this straight, this is the SexKylie phase, right? It didn't sound much like the Kylie we knew up to that point, this her first post-PWL release, and it didn't sound much like producers Brothers In Rhythm's own work either in its elegant chillout seduction.

Jeff Buckley - Last Goodbye
Grace has become such a touchstone for meaningfulness over the last near twenty years it's difficult to reconcile with how it was received as an adjunct to what else was going on, given nobody else was doing emotive, ambitious fallen angel alt-folk influenced by folkie Led Zep and the early 70s troubadours.

Portishead - Wandering Star
The roots may have been somewhere near near-neighbours Massive Attack, but amid the slowbeat was something entirely their own creation, ambient soundscapes and introspective genre-grabbing noir. Who put this on at dinner parties if they wanted their guests to remain?

Madder Rose - Panic On
Arguably the forgotten parties of the rush of US female-fronted introspective alt-rock bands that emerged in the early 90s, Mary Lorson's sweetly harsh approach matching the rough edges of the twisting, charming chime behind.

Kristin Hersh - Your Ghost
Hersh had of course been down that path before and had the emotional scars to prove it. Hips And Makers, released during Throwing Muses downtime, was pointedly not the warped charge of that band but a sparse, highly personal set that marked the boundaries between her inner strength and fallibility. Michael Stipe on backing vocals surely recognised similar from REM's more turned-in moments.

Blur - This Is A Low
1994, the year Parklife ate everything. Easy to forget given the album's and by extension Britpop's party livelihood (and Damon and Alex's, in fairness) but its second half/side is full of compassion and existential dread as a reminder of what modern life still actually is.

Bedhead - Liferaft
Slowcore ahoy! Bedhead had three guitarists and found a way to have them intertwine without resorting to noise or rock in its cliched form outside quiet-loud degrees, producing an undue brooding serenity somewhere between Low and Jason Pierce's various works.

dEUS - Hotellounge (Be The Death Of Me)
Tom Barman hates dEUS being called "art rock" but that's what Worst Case Scenario most easily fits into, swirling noise and confusion that cherrypicks from avant-jazz, college rock awkwardness and pure bursts of evil noise. Many more years of that kind of thing would follow but they may well have nailed it best first time out.

The High Llamas - Checking In, Checking Out
Sean O'Hagan left Stereolab as a permanent member, though he'd often subsequently guest, during the recording of Mars Audiac Quintet to explore the boundaries of avant-pop. With Byrds/Brian Wilson reference points and without the space-age lounge music the High Llamas would eventually explore in greater volume Checking In, Checking Out is as straightforward a melodic pop song as he'd ever make, and just casually greater than most who specialise in those influences ever managed.

The Cardigans - Sick & Tired
Doesn't everyone have a yen for when the Cardigans started out as a delicate, secretly melancholic pop band who used bassoons and called an album Emmerdale? No?

Dinosaur Jr - Feel The Pain
Well after Lou Barlow but also by now without Murph, J Mascis taking over the drums himself. Just casually he made an alt-rock anthem without giving up the guitar screes.

Drive Like Jehu - Here Come The Rome Plows
When John Reis wasn't being Speedo in Rocket From The Crypt he was fronting a dynamic, melodically complex post-hardcore band who ended up as a significant emo influence in that genre's original meaning. Yank Crime is the one to investigate further.

Manic Street Preachers - Faster
Over this side of the pond, our soul-baring rock and roll charges came in more emotionally complex forms - note 'faster' as in 'one who fasts'. A balaclava-clad James Dean Bradfield earns Top Of The Pops a reputed 25,000+ complaints.

R.E.M. - Circus Envy
Between the world-conquering Automatic For The People and the slow burn critical favourite New Adventures In Hi-Fi, Monster looks ever more an anomoly, a nasty post-grunge stew about celebrity, human commodifying and masculinity's obsession which the band nearly broke up during the making of. It may be the only major label album ever to carry the influence of Echobelly's guitar sound.

Girls Against Boys - Kill The Sexplayer
Masculinity of a subtly different kind was at the heat of the dual-bassed GvsB, their highly strung wiry take on Fugazi's post-hardcore attack mode co-habiting Scott McCloud's Mark E Smith as Baltimore dive bar patron croaky vocals and sinuous, sinister bottom end-heavy groove.

Shellac - A Minute
And thence came Albini. At Action Park's title was oddly not related to the actual Action Park in New Jersey, infamous for the number of accidents and injuries that happened there, strange because the high-wire ride liable to crash nastily to earth any moment exactly describes Shellac's wiry brand of dynamic math-noise misanthropy.

Sugar - Gee Angle
Bob Mould was another who'd been this way before, and if File Under: Easy Listening wasn't him or his trio at their peak it once again proved there was a certain kind of pop songwriting nous under the full-on guitar swamp.

Sebadoh - Rebound
And back to Lou Barlow, who was veering away from the early four-track acoustic guts-spilling into mid-fi direct appeals to what love does. This noise and confusion was as approachable as he'd get, infamous much later Top Of The Pops appearance notwithstanding.

Bratmobile - The Real Janelle
Conversely, 1994 was pretty much the end of riot grrrl in its initial form as an attention attracting force for good and loud as many of the original wave split or faded away and the term was co-opted for any old female-fronted guitar band. Bratmobile were one of those who called it a day, the EP that this was the title track from a fine summation of their scrappy, directly messaging style.

Smoking Popes - Need You Around
Chicago punk-pop with languidly crooned vocals, sounding remarkably like a Midwest Wedding Present.

Inspiral Carpets - I Want You
An atypically thunderous track in its original form, the addition of Mark E Smith somehow elevates it in its cryptic philosophy sung indiscrimately over the song. Got Mark E onto Top Of The Pops, with inevitable consequences vis a vis accuracy and alcohol level.

Supergrass - Caught By The Fuzz
Oh yeah, Britpop, that kind of took hold in 1994 too. And sometimes when in that frame of a cultural moment passing quickly by all you need is a rocket-fuelled paen to youthful hi-jinks of dubious legality.

Oasis - Up In The Sky
Or something that affects to bring people together in its stew of big walls of guitars, cocksure vocals about being the centre of the universe and vaguely baggy backdrop.

Elastica - Connection
Or just steal someone else's riff. Elastica had a way of turning larceny into something that seemed fresh, though, so while that pretty much is Wire's Three Girl Rhumba over the top it still feels fresh and dynamically of-the-moment.

Edwyn Collins - A Girl Like You
You couldn't really say A Girl Like You was of the moment, with its Northern Soul beat, psychedelic guitar sound and slyly subversive take on the straightforward love song, but that's what eventually made it capture attention and give a good man a second commercial wind.

Underworld - Cowgirl
The personnel had been around for longer than anyone would let on - Karl Hyde and Rick Smith formed their first band in 1980, were tipped for big things in Freur circa 1983 and became a funk-electropop band called Underworld in 1987 - but the appeal of techno and progressive house, plus the influence of DJ and new member Darren Emerson, gave them an original grounding to bring old songwriting and genre-blurring ideas into an electronic wheelhouse alongside Hyde's stream of consciousness.

Nas - N.Y. State Of Mind
Nasir Jones arrived under his own steam in 1994 too, kicking off his landmark first album Illmatic with his confessional about gang violence and the ghetto lifestyle, given an appropriately creeped out DJ Premier production and helping bring appreciation of lyricism back to hip-hop.

Sonic Youth - Bull In The Heather
Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star was a pause on Sonic Youth's approachable hi-fi ambitions, bringing noise back into the centre of play. Its one single turned out to be the highlight amid the fuzz sludge, restrained for all the weird guitar noises as Kim Gordon withdraws from your culture.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Red Right Hand
Granted, The Mercy Seat and The Ship Song were on previous releases, but is there a case for saying that Let Love In is where memories and expectations of the Birthday Party were fully overtaken by the grandeur and possibilities of the Bad Seeds as an entity? Cave riffs on Paradise Lost, the Seeds delve into the darkest of backstreet nights.

Pulp - Do You Remember The First Time?
And we end with another emergence into the final form after years of trying, as His 'N' Hers coalesced the ideas Jarvis Cocker had been working towards for years and he became a cause celebre in the process. His, and everyone's, year ahead... well, that would be another entirely new level.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

STN recommends: 12/2/17

Kiran Leonard - Cracked Globe

Because Leonard has too many songs, he follows up last year's typically ambitious Grapefruit album with a cassette-only mini-album, Monarchs Of The Crescent Pail, out next month. And because Leonard has too many ideas, this track was achieved by "lining four (acoustic guitars) up against a wall and tuning each to a big chord. I played the guitars like a big harp and they were awesome and resonant". Conversely, the heartfelt rawness his vocal and the spareness of the sound might be the most straightforward and accessible he's been.




Waking Aida - Shoal

When the Southampton outfit first crossed our path two or three years ago they were a fascinating arrival in the slow burning post-rock picture; now, with new material produced by Matt Calvert of Three Trapped Tigers, they've taken on intially a more hurried math hue before gracefully devolving into floating layered electronic ambience and... vocals! Sparkling and fascinating, we've no idea if this is leading anywhere of greater volume soon but it's a good signpost if they are.




Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums - Treating You Right

Allo Darlin' are no more, having come to a triumphant live climax towards the end of 2016 as both frontwoman Elizabeth Morris and excitable bassist Botting are leaving the country. Before he goes, Botting put together an indiepop all-star band (Darren Hayman, Wave Pictures, Tigercats, Owl & Mouse) and releases Better Friends on 10th March, a country flavoured charmer via the classic sunshine Australian indiepop sound that like his old band is ramshackle in a good way and joyful for the love of music.




Spiral Stairs - Dundee Man

Former guitarist with apparent Fall obsessives releases track called (City In Scotland) Man - the first line is even "going to Edinburgh". The second track from Scott Kannberg's upcoming album Dolly & The Daggers is fairly straightforward guitar pop with an echoey riff and an abnormal underside actually not dissimilar to Stephen Malkmus' earliest solo work.




Wolf Girl - Moody

In about four weeks' time Wolf Girl will be amongst those playing STN's stacked sixth annual Leicester Indiepop Alldayer. After that in May they'll be putting out a 7" via the mighty Odd Box Records, a fizzing fuzzpop confection with an infectious hook and typical lyrical sharpness.




Johnny Flynn - Heart Sunk Hank

A more trad singer-songwriter cut from Flynn's upcoming fourth album Sillion, bluesy warpy crackle delivered authentically by being recorded in a 1940s Voice-o-Graph recording booth when one of the only two in the world visited London last year.




Wednesday, February 08, 2017

STN recommends: 8/2/17

Amber Arcades - It Changes

Decidedly more straightforwardly melodic, sounding more mid-90s in a very good way, a new standalone track ahead of Grandaddy support dates.




Warm Digits - End Times

Machine tooled nervy Kraut-disco with Field Music's Peter Brewis on vocals from Newcastle duo newly signed to Memphis Industries.




Jens Lekman - Evening Prayer

It's a fun, lightly funky song about making a 3D print of a tumour. Obviously. (Well, not just about that, this being Lekman, but that makes for the better standfirst)




Unqualified Nurse Band - Death Surf A52

Evil sounding guitars always get us. The driving evil of UNB are from Derby, released an album last year and this is next up on the Too Pure Singles Club. The bit where it appears to turn into a John Lennon song is quite a jolt.


Monday, February 06, 2017

40 From 40: 1976

If you're just joining us, and given the hits the first one got that's a distinct possibility, this is 40 From 40, two score tracks to gradually represent every year between 1970 and 2009. The year randomiser has for the second entry thrown up 1976, long since rebranded as the Year Zero where an entire generation threw out one idea and picked up another as one, but in reality a kind of crossroads year, as Bob Stanley has pitched - punk came in right at the end in terms of being sellable product, disco benefitted from the slow introduction into mainstream shops of the 12" but hadn't quite made the leap from a sound defined by mutated soul and one-off hits, the UK charts are still dominated by variety acts and MOR schlock - as they would remain despite everything, of course, but this period isn't seeing a lot of infiltration from underground ideas or breakthroughs as it had done. Far more than 1987, this playlist contains notable suites of stylistic surface similarity, but those go to show that something was coalescing in various ways and things were about to go somewhere a lot more interesting...




Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner
The greatest, most to-the-point way of introducing a song. This is of course Roadrunner (Twice), as per the convoluted recording and release pattern of the various versions sharing a title. For the record: this was recorded in 1972 with John Cale and released on the Modern Lovers' eponymous album this year, the slower Roadrunner (Once) was recorded in 1974 but released in 1975 and then as a UK single in 1977. There's three more publicly available versions, but let's not go that far. Anyway, the Sister Ray rip with the full band is the only necessary version.

The Runaways - Cherry Bomb
Some of those other versions of Roadrunner were recorded by/for Kim Fowley, whose marshalling of the five 17-18 year olds he helped bring together has been questioned since but the power-pop he oversaw, a midpoint between Cheap Trick and Suzi Quatro, became indelible and a way forward for both female bands and the part of hard riffing rock that would feed into punk.

Blondie - Rip Her To Shreds
From LA ingenues to a New York vixen more than a decade older (and to complete the link, multiple sources claim Blondie's Nigel Harrison played uncredited bass on the first Runaways album) A synthesis of the girl groups and post-Who/Doors knowingly trashy rock shapes with a pop sensibility, they basically stumbled across new wave years ahead of the fact.

Pere Ubu - Street Waves
Meanwhile the singer and guitarist from proto-punks Rocket From The Tombs were busy inventing avant-garage, and where 1975's memorable debut 30 Seconds Over Tokyo was dissonant their third single cleaved more towards the Velvets playbook but undercut by that experimental, sliced and diced edge.

Richard Hell & the Voidoids - Blank Generation
And then there were those who wanted to self-abase and destroy. Hell had played the song for Television (whose first releases came in 1975 and 1977) before falling out with Tom Verlaine, ran through the never officially recorded Heartbreakers, then wrote a dropout anthem based on a Rod McKuen song that Malcolm McLaren and his charges would attempt to adapt wholesale along with Hell's image, style, attitude and design inspiration... but we'll get back to that.

The Ramones - Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
Whereas the Ramones came out of somewhere different, a group of hirsute Beach Boys, Who, MC5, bubblegum and girl group fans in leather jackets playing fast songs that reinstated the short and simple aesthetic of mid-60s pop/rock, proving in their speed freak mania that the old ideas are the best.

The Damned - New Rose
Meanwhile in London, Malcolm McLaren was having a first go at synthesising what he saw of the Ramones and Richard Hell in CBGBs by helping out a band calling themselves Masters Of The Backside. They never played a gig and split to get away from Malc's influence, but Chrissie Hynde formed the Pretenders and the other three used that insider knowledge to fling their psychedelic leanings and cartoon-vampiric stylings into a wall at high speed. They bashed out a couple of songs with Nick Lowe recording, and on 22nd October UK punk as something tangible in object form was underway.

Sex Pistols - Anarchy In The UK
And on 26th November it really took off. The Pistols had been covered by the NME in April and played on So It Goes in September, and they were on Nationwide around the release of the single so clearly the phenomenon of The Punk Rockers had some cachet, but the Today appearance undermined the single at the same time as promoting it with EMI dropping the single and the band not being able to play anywhere. It almost sounds trad these days, that wall of guitars not far from Slade's sound, but rock and roll as civil war was where its power lied.

Nick Lowe - So It Goes
Basher ended up as one of 1976's great punk accessories, not just producing the Damned's debut but finding himself at the heart of the independent label boom, a side product of the DIY attitude, as the man behind the first single on Stiff Records. Angular pub rock had reached its final form.

Blue Öyster Cult - (Don't Fear) The Reaper
Alright, Will Ferrell, sit down now. Where the UK had pub rock, the US was evolving out of psychedelic rock similarly into harder forms, which actually makes this meditation on love after the inevitability of death quite soft in comparison.

Steely Dan - Haitian Divorce
Failed Brill Building songwriters hunker down in the studio and create beatnik jazz-rock. The Royal Scam is just beyond the tipping point from taking a wry footing in the scene around them to full-on cynicism and complexity. Talkbox solo!

Fox - S-S-S-Single Bed
Talkbox solo! Noosha Fox's charismatic charm and expressively heliumised vocal style could turn most things into a come-on, so their biggest hit after a period of chart inactivity played that right up. After Fox went solo the rest of them formed Yellow Dog and made the appeallingly odd Just One More Night, which likely won't appear in the 1978 selection but is worth a mention in dispatches while we can.

Junior Murvin - Police & Thieves
For the next few songs a saluatory reminder that despite Paul Nicholas' protestations 1976 was a very healthy year for reggae in its deepest, most meaningful and spiritual form. The Harder They Come followed by Bob Marley's international success led to roots reggae becoming a big subculture basis, the British fruits of which would come to be seen in both the formation of British consciousness reggae bands and punk's open Don Letts-derived debt. Police & Thieves was famously covered by the Clash in 1977, but Murvin's nervy Lee Perry-produced version is comfortably still superior.

Bob Marley & The Wailers - War
Marley was becoming big business but he wouldn't become a major selling act until 1977's Exodus, his first album to be recorded while living in London. That arguably makes Rastaman Vibration his last purely Jamaican-aimed album, though its creeping acceptance of synths and guitar solos more than suggests a growing western influence regardless and this was the highest charting album of his lifetime in America. War is notably credited to drummer Carlton Barrett, who pioneered the influential one drop rhythm (and former international footballer Allen Cole, but that was likely Marley getting round a contractual dispute by giving his mates a look-in), the lyrics are based on a Haile Selassie speech and reused intended on carrying the Rastafari belief system to a wider audience.

Max Romeo - One Step Forward
Still best known for the self-explanatory Wet Dream but War Ina Babylon, recorded with Perry and the Upsetters, is his best work, part of the Black Ark "holy trinity". It's also the album that features Chase The Devil, as sampled on the Prodigy's Outta Space.

Burning Spear - Man In The Hills
Compared to 1975's Marcus Garvey, the album this is the title track to was less militant and more contemplative and evoking Winston Rodney's rural upbringing, Rastafari itself having developed from communities living in the hills pre-emancipation. Listen to those bird samples.

Dillinger - Cokane In My Brain
For christ's sake, Jim, answer him! Based on recent US hit Do It Any Way You Wanna by The People's Choice it made number one in the Netherlands and the follow-up was called Marijuana In My Brain, which suggests the former Lester Bullock found his audience. Actually it's intended as a satire on New York chattering class society, but few read it that way.

U-Roy - Natty Rebel
Such a shame we never had a Who's On First-style misunderstanding comedy sketch involving I-Roy and U-Roy. Ewart Beckford was one of the instigators of toasting and certainly the first to popularise it, the drum and bass-driven chatting style eventually feeding back into hip-hop's roots.

Augustus Pablo - King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
Not the first dub album, or even the first popular release, or the first involving either Pablo or Tubby, but with Robbie Shakespeare on bass and the Wailers/Upsetters' Barrett brothers backing King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown is a real coming together of talents to make something dynamic. Jacob Miller's Baby I Love You So is the startoff point for the title track, for the record.

Lee Perry & The Upsetters - Dread Lion
And finally for the reggae suite, back to Black Ark and Perry's glorious studio band by now featuring the Barretts, Sly Dunbar and on bass Boris Gardiner (of later I Wanna Wake Up With You brief fame) Perry had been signed to Virgin's Front Line imprint off the back of the Romeo album, so he took some of his recent rhythms and deconstructed them in dub. Here the vocal samples, horns, flute, melodica and unidentifiable percussion pile up for something from a pretty dark place.

Cluster - Sowiesoso
Is there a comfortable link between dub and Krautrock? Oppressive atmospheres, focus on rhythm sections... actually, the golden age of motorik was pretty much done in 1976, even if we didn't entirely know it, with the bigger names fading away or shifting focus. Cluster, for instance, made a softer, more pastoral wash inclined album indebted to ambient, maybe learning from Brian Eno's previous work with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius when they were members of Harmonia.

CAN - I Want More
Meanwhile Can made a weird disco record and got onto Top Of The Pops. Well, after a fashion, as Michael Karoli was on holiday and couldn't be contacted so a roadie with Lou Reed hair got to onstentatiously press pedals and produce a violin bow in his stead.

Wild Cherry - Play That Funky Music
And so into some actual disco, or in the case of Wild Cherry a funk band broadening their scope. Almost needless to say, they never had another top 40 single anywhere, except New Zealand for some reason.

Heatwave - Boogie Nights
Similarly, a jobbing funk band of international standing - London based but fronted by two Americans and featuring Swiss, Czech and Jamaican members - produced by non-soul brother Barry Blue found their moment, penned by keyboard player, future Thriller writer and son of Cleethorpes Rod Temperton. That's Clarke Peters, then a musical theatre aspirant, later of The Wire, on the basso profundo backing vocals.

Mud - Shake It Down
Right. OK then. For the avoidance of doubt - yes, this is the same Mud who did Tiger Feet, Lonely This Christmas and so forth, very much second division glam who'd clearly come out of wanting to be Elvis-styled rock'n'roll revivalists. But right near the end of their time in the sun - they'd only reach the top 20 once more, and that with a cover of Lean On Me - they made an accomplished disco record. Guitarist Rob Davis is credited as co-writer, and he'd go on to co-write Can't Get You Out Of My Head, Groovejet and Toca's Miracle, so the clues were there. Also, it's our list, we can do what we want with it.

Climax Blues Band - Couldn't Get It Right
Like the Average White Band a couple of years down the road, the Climax Blues Band were a British outfit - Stafford, to be exact - who wanted to be American at all costs. It's blues rock rather than disco but it fits rather well right here, doesn't it?

Electric Light Orchestra - Livin' Thing
More adventures in symphonic soft rock, this time with added echo and glam stomp.

Joni Mitchell - Coyote
Joni's voice had deepened by Hejira and she's more self-assertive and musically propulsive. The last two Laura Marling albums are basically invented here.

Gordon Lightfoot - The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a storm in November 1975 on Lake Superior, all 29 crew perishing - it remains the largest ship to sink in a Great Lake. This is basically recounting the accident to expansive folk-rock, but Lightfoot's rich voice and wording brings it to life.

Patti Smith Group - Pissing In A River
Radio Ethiopia really, really isn't the album its predecessor Horses was, but at least this got to show some restraint and poetic touch outside that solo.

Warren Zevon - Desperados Under The Eaves
The darkly sardonic singer-songwriter's debut was produced Jackson Browne and featured almost all of Fleetwood Mac, members of the Eagles, Carl Wilson, Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt. All that is apparent in the production quality, but the personal storytelling of LA being the cruel mistress he can't leave, not in his current state, undermines the slickness.

Tom Waits - Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)
Rod Stewart would later cover this to some success while misunderstanding the fundamental issue that the chorus of Waltzing Matilda is a by-product of the narrator's situation, drunk and homeless in a foreign land, not the centrepiece.

David Bowie - Word On A Wing
The Thin White Duke album, Station To Station is the transition between the plastic soul phase and the direction he'd take once esconsed in Berlin. This feels like it could have fit into most of his identities without that much changing.

Flamin' Groovies - Please Please Girl
The San Franciscan power poppers had been an acclaimed but underselling major label act, then took five years off during which their singer left. They came back leaner and meaner, a British Invasion-style band effortlessly putting out sub-three minute pop gems, admittedly to not much more of an audience.

Graham Parker & The Rumour - Heat Treatment
Pub rock was still around - this was the year Dr Feelgood's live album Stupidity reached number one - and the Rumour had been augmented into a full soul revue on a budget. Parker's vocal resemblance to Craig Finn present and correct.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Dance To Your Daddy
Never knowingly underperforming, Harvey and the SAHB had by now sharpened their collision of prog, glam, blues rock and chanson to a point. What would you ever do with all this?

The Temptations - Up The Creek (Without A Paddle)
Sly Stone writing for the Temptations, a band who'd borrowed his ideas of psychedelic soul, backed by the Family Stone! And very few seem to know it ever happened too.

Marvin Gaye - I Want You
I Want You, being the album between Let's Get It On and the divorce diorama Here, My Dear, finds him in his priapic state, adding disco strings, funk guitars and congas a-go-go and still managing to sound absolutely laid back.

Stevie Wonder - Another Star
Couldn't get past 1976 without highlighting Songs In The Key Of Life, the last of Stevie's imperial phase and reputedly his own favourite, ridiculously influential all round. George Benson on guitar.

Fela Kuti & Africa 70 - Zombie
Mind, you want to talk about socially charged music, which with punk is kind of where we came in? Zombie, the album, has two tracks of twelve and thirteen minutes, extraordinary unstoppable combinations of African rhythms and hi-life with Western jazz and funk featuring the great Tony Allen on drums. The title track was an attack on the Nigerian military, the call and response vocal starting five minutes, in that took hold so much that the military attacked Fela's Kalakuta Republic commune and burnt it down, beat Kuti severely, and caused his mother's eventual death by throwing her from a window. Following that the first time he played it live, in Ghana, riots broke out during the song that were so severe he was banned from the country.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

STN recommends: 3/2/17

Post War Glamour Girls - Chipper

Leeds' existential doom merchants are back with a third album, Swan Songs released 21st April, with something that almost seems like it could have post-punk commercial potential were James Smith not intent on bringing everything to account, his backing almost seeming progressively more monolithic in sympathy.




Sean Rowe - Gas Station Rose

We've been supporters over the last few years of the baritone bittersweet singer-songwriter's output, a run that continues with this first taste of new album New Lore, released 7th April. It doesn't need more than spare guitar, odd strident piano chords, late blooming strings and studio atmospherics to bring an emotional heaviness to Rowe's search for connections and hope for destiny.




H. Grimace - Land/Body

Takes a few moments, this, but there's something of the Savages (and not just in the last words being "I am here") about the way it takes post-punk tropes/Siouxsisms and makes them sound urgent, social critique on standardisation against jarring, surging, frankly vital guitar rushes. What can we tell you about the band? They're based in that London, singer Hannah Gledhill is from Melbourne, and they have an album recorded by Rory Attwell, Self Architecht, out in April.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

STN recommends... January 2017

One down, eleven to go. Herein find every new song we've posted this month that's on Spotify, representative tracks from our favourite new albums of January not otherwise covered, and maybe the odd stray.