Thursday, January 31, 2008

We've posted Stump's Buffalo before now, haven't we?

Sod it.

Luckily their other hit, for want of a better word, has turned up too:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This is nothing but a goddamn popularity contest

With the Brits being posited as "the year manufactured pop struck back" to avoid the record industry having to publicly admit that not much happened on record in 2007, the NME awards had the chance in their nominations to reseal their position as the proper alternative after several years of major award shortlists mirroring those of what was set up as the enemy. Instead, everyone has decided to retreat to what they know like a commercial radio station's playlisting software. Feel the danger and vitality, but before that look at these categories:

Best British Band: Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, The Cribs, Klaxons, Muse

Oasis actually did something this year and get repaid by being dumped from their Best British Band nomination birthright. There's gratitude. Interesting to see no Radiohead, given a) they turn up for NME awards, or at least did last time they were about, and b) it demonstrates something tangible, nay, inscrutable about the modern NME readership.

Best International Band: Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, The Killers, Kings Of Leon, My Chemical Romance

God, what a vanilla selection - ver Fire aside, it's 'edgy' and 'alternative' as Ken Bruce might deem it. Even the Brits get it together enough to nominate Cat Power and Feist.

Best New Band: The Enemy, Foals, Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong, The Pigeon Detectives, The Wombats

Right, three in and we're already calling bollocks on the transparency of the voting results. There is no way that Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong, currently setting unique markers for bad live reviews, message board hatred, pissing off journalists who are attempting to write puff pieces and not seeing huge major label investment reflected in playlisting or any wider interest at all, would garner enough independent votes to make the top five in such a category without the guiding hand of the NME having a second spot on their tour starting this week to justify.

Best Live Band: Arctic Monkeys, The Cribs, Kaiser Chiefs, Muse, My Chemical Romance

And we doubt the Cribs would have got in here had they not had a slot to fulfil. Otherwise it's 'bands that play enormodomes' as much as 'bands that put on a show'. A month later and Led Zeppelin might have made it in.

Best Solo Artist: Kate Nash, Jack Penate, Jamie T, Amy Winehouse, Patrick Wolf

Patrick Wolf had an odd 2007 in which he decided to take the T4 route to becoming a Proper Pop Star, hanging around with Peaches and Kelly, famously duetting with Charlotte Church losing all shreds of his unique worldview in favour of wearing some cut-off lederhosen and jumping around a bit. The International Board Of Proper Pop Stardom responded by asking what the hell he was playing at with those sequencer settings and sent him away with a flea in his ear. What happens next, as he is by all accounts already working on a fourth album he once said he'd never make, will be fascinating. Far more fascinating than trawling through the rest of this selection, in any case.

Best Album: Favourite Worst Nightmare, In Rainbows, Myths Of The Near Future, Shotters Nation, Sound Affects we’ll Live And Die In These Towns

Myths Of The Near Future even most Klaxons fans had given up as a badly produced, uneven, full of filler (although why do most single out Isle Of Her, one of two decent non-singles on it?) collection, then did a communal 360 when the NME decided it was album of the year just so they could go "look at our man mashed on the breakfast telly!" yet again. How big of him. Shotters Nation meanwhile went down only as 'an improvement', and only then because it had a proper producer, Stephen Street from the nineties. Next year, Linkin Park achieve critical parity with an album produced by Roy Thomas Baker.

Best Track: Fluorescent Adolescent, FluX, Let’s Dance To Joy Division, Lord Don’t Slow Me Down, Men’s Needs

We thought everyone (and we mean that word in terms of our own little closeted worldview) hated Flux, then saw people dancing to it on the PA between bands last week. We do know people hated Lord Don't Slow Me Down, so this must be the bargaining chip to get Noel to turn up. He might say something. This is the Cribs' third of four nominations. Did we miss a meeting?

Best Video: D.A.N.C.E., Flux, Golden Skans, Teddy Picker, Teenagers

Teddy Picker was a performance video, Teenagers a performance video with cheerleaders. Flux had people dressed as robots in it, but no more convincingly than in the average Beastie Boys video. You can't really look beyond D.A.N.C.E., so they will.

Best Dancefloor Filler: Atlantis To Interzone, D.A.N.C.E., Flux, Hummer, Let’s Dance To Joy Division

AKA the Hello, We Have A Club, Remember? And Branded DJs! You can't dance to Let’s Dance To Joy Division any more than you can dance to Dead Souls.

Best Music DVD: Amy Winehouse - I Told You I Was Trouble, Lord Don’t Slow Me Down, Nirvana Unplugged In New York, The Song Remains The Same (Special Edition), Up The Shambles

Two reissues. Wonderful.

Best Live Event: Glastonbury, Muse At Wembley Stadium, Reading And Leeds Festival, T In The Park, V Festival

Don't be too obvious, will you. It's from here that it all goes a little Smash Hits.

Hero Of The Year: Matt Bellamy, Pete Doherty, Noel Fielding, Ryan Jarman, Thom Yorke

Above and beyond the call of duty, all. Especially Ryan Jarman, who made a brave stand against the corporate indie hordes. He did this at the Mean Fiddler-invested, heavily sponsored Glastonbury festival, the first of a number of major festivals his band played in 2007 which helped secure their place on the NME Awards tour. He's virtually Billy Childish. If you're surprised to find Noel Fielding has worked his way into the Shockwaves nation's hearts, imagine how Julian Barrett, who actually writes the music and at least half of the script of the Boosh, feels. Still, good to know that Thom came up with the pay what you feel model all by himself.

Villain Of The Year: Tony Blair, Johnny Borrell, Gordon Brown, George W Bush, Amy Winehouse

Shame they didn't bite the bullet and call it Most Very Horrible Thing. We'd have voted for spiders. Instead, a male rocker has heroin issues and is nominated for Hero Of The Year, while a female non-rocker has heroin issues and is nominated for Villain Of The Year. Paging Camille Paglia!

Best Dressed: Pete Doherty, Noel Fielding, Kate Nash, Alex Turner, Gerard Way
Worst Dressed: Johnny Borrell, Pete Doherty, Mika, Gerard Way, Amy Winehouse

Nobody knows the criteria at all, do they? They might as well have gone the whole hog and put a Best/Worst Haircut award in.

Best Album Artwork: Because Of The Times, Favourite Worst Nightmare, Sawdust, Send Away The Tigers, The Good The Bad And The Queen

Worth doing.

Best Radio Show: Russell Brand, Zane Lowe, Chris MoyleS, Colin Murray, Jo Whiley

Every so often a Courteeners fan will draw themselves to their virtual full height and declare "I think you'll find Jo Whiley knows about new music!" No, Huw Stephens knows about new music. Jo Whiley knows about whatever the major labels are foisting on her now as bands creating a natural buzz - yeah, right - and gets an audible frisson of rulebreaking excitement whenever she plays Gallows.

Worst Album: All The Lost Souls, Blackout, Life In Cartoon Motion, Spirit, The Trick To Life

It's those major labels, isn't it, always ploughing their money into heavy promotion of the lowest common denominator for unthinking plebs. Pause to allow irony to sink in having read all the categories so far, continue.

Worst Band: 30 Seconds To Mars, Fall Out Boy, The Hoosiers, My Chemical Romance, Panic At The Disco

The War On Emo may outlive us all.

Best TV Show: Heroes, The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Skins

To explain: The Mighty Boosh had Noel Fielding in it. Buzzcocks had Noel Fielding in it. The IT Crowd had Noel Fielding in it (and Game Of Pricks playing out one episode, by the by). Skins had people who want to be Noel Fielding in it. Heroes is the compromise choice once it emerged putting The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year in would have been a bit obvious.

Best Film: Control, Hot Fuzz, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, The Simpsons Movie, Superbad

Some people vote for an Anton Corbijn arthouse movie, some for Superbad. If only every category was as wide ranging.

Sexiest Man: Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, Julian Barrett, Noel Fielding, Nicky Wire, Patrick Wolf

Even in this metrosexual age nobody's really sure across the board what constitutes male sexiness, hence this compromise of a list. Unlike this one...

Sexiest Woman: Jenny Lewis, Kylie Minogue, Rhianna, Hayley Williams, Rachael Yamagata

And so Rachael Yamagata receives her first ever NME acknowledgement, if perhaps not in the way she intended. These two were voted for online by the expedient of flashing up photos and text going "go on, you fancy her, don't you?", but even then we can't imagine the Yamagata Myspace hordes descending. Kylie turned up at the awards a few years ago and the press covered nothing else at all from them the next day.

Best Venue: Carling Academy Brixton, Glasgow Barrowlands, London Astoria, Manchester Apollo, Wembley Stadium

Wembley? How easily pleased are these voters?

Best Website: Bebo, Facebook,, Myspace, YouTube

Ah, Web 2.0. And note no Pitchfork, Drowned In Sound or such, because there are no other online music news sources than Repeat. There are no other online music news sources than

Best Band Blog: Foals, Lightspeed Champion, Lily Allen, Radiohead, The Streets

Feeling sorry for yourself is evidently the new black. Literally, if we're talking emo. Actually Foals' is good, Dev is as pleasingly rambling as any LJer, Radiohead's is inscrutable, and the Streets' one has a really strong street team.

Best Music Blog: The Hype Machine, The Modern Age, Nothing But Green Lights, Spinner, Stereogum

It's alright, we'll cope. Seriously, very well done to Mike NBGL, who seems to have achieved this without having to beg (he was featured in the magazine a couple of years ago, but then so was Dominic Masters) and is consequently ranked for now alongside The Hype Machine, which isn't even a blog.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weekender : lacks clarity of meaning in its writing style

- Somewhat unorthodoxically, End Of The Road Records, the industry arm of the glorious festival (yes, we are going back in September), decided to let us all know that the Young Republic's 12 Tales From Winter City was being given a full release on 21st January in an update on, well, the 21st January. How's a blogger supposed to write clumsily worded reviews with no advance information? Anyway, it's worth mentioning late or not because it's a tremendously assured collection of the band's early 7"s and difficult to find tracks from self-issued records, a kind of twee-baroque Americana/alt-country Belle & Sebastian, a lushly warm, early summery kind of album. Some achievement to get such an effect from an album released in January, you'd have to say.

- As far as albums actually released this week go, this coming Monday that also sees the surely rushed without directly saying so Adele debut sees another universal tip for 2008 great things bring out their first release. Some bands make you want to dance or mope, some make you happy, sad, fearful or hopeful. Only one gets you looking up minor grammatical issues. Vampire Weekend have faced criticisms during their short but loud time in the public eye, being their Columbia University preppy nature, taking on of the Afrobeat sound and that Ezra Koenig (who also contributed to last year's critically acclaimed Dirty Projectors album) sounds a bit like Sting. To which we, who may be sometimes right and sometimes wrong but are always certain, say: and?; and? (many of the same journalists are those who would garland MIA from the top decks of things); and? Talking Heads play a smarter Shins using the Bhundu Boys' backline would be our glib summation. Whatever, it's a tremendous record that in its own small scale way promises much.

- We've always hated Bernard Butler productions. The David McAlmont records notwithstanding, it usually serves as shorthand for "lumpen same-again guitars pretending to fall apart" (Libertines, Cribs, Cajun Dance Party) or "route one strings like Motown would have used. On an out-take" (Duffy). It's a measure of Sons And Daughters' skill that his helming of This Gift isn't the letdown that could have been expected after moving in such a direction from the claustrophobic malevolence of 2005's The Repulsion Box. Instead it's like recasting Blondie as the sort of girl group Morrissey would have lionised or bumping into the Long Blondes in the early hours with flick-knives. And they ended up hating him, which seals the deal.

- If Bernard Butler was ever given a day in the studio with Xiu Xiu he'd retire on the spot. Women As Lovers is the sixth album by the San Francisco-based band project of Jamie Stewart, whose disprite indie-rock avant-garde noiseism defies categorisation as much as it does tunes the milkman can hum. Until now, that is, with a fairly straight-up cover of Under Pressure, albeit featuring Michael Gira of Swans. The rest is post-no wave that crashes around and sound as unnerving and dyspeptic as ever.

- Single of the week was decided last May (not literally, we couldn't see UK release schedules that far ahead, just figuratively) when we chanced across Nacka's teen titans Those Dancing Days. Back somewhere along the journey we described Hitten as "either Camera Obscura doing Pull Shapes or the Pipettes doing Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken", and many Weekly Sweep namechecks we stand by that - it'll tear your heart, but it'll do so while you're dancing, a whole bunch of youthful neuroses colliding with a whole stack of northern soul-influenced proper indie. Plus it's got the tremendous Hammond pop miniature Dischoe on the B-side.

- In most other weeks, though, it'd be the debut by David Brewis as School Of Language, the first release under the Field Music oragnisational umbrella apart from, well, Field Music records. The 7" Rockist Single is a mutant child of two tracks from the upcoming Sea From Shore, this typically sample and lush guitar driven, and helpfully Brewis advises "if you'd like to make your own version using tracks from the album, simply snip the first 25 seconds of track 1 and weld them to the track 11 - as a bonus, your version will feature a few bars of extra guitar solo".

COMING SOON: Laura Marling's push in Britain seems to be as a kind of junior member - literally, given she isn't eighteen yet - to the Adele'n'Duffy post-Winehouse new female singer-songwriter carve-up. Alas I Cannot Swim (February 11th) deserves much more, not least as it comfortably avoids both that categorisation and that old New Lily/Kate one to plough its own ethereally confused folky path. My Manic And I and Night Terror have low-budget videos, Failure a black and white live clip.

MYSPACE INVADERS: We've done a band from Brighton already in 2008, so it's time we counterbalanced our two favourite locations for exciting new bands by doing one from Cardiff. Fortunately Picture Books In Winter, whose name comes from a Robert Louis Stevenson work, are far more than fulfilling a specious internal quota - indeed, they're the type of band that in the face of One Night Only promo campaigns make you feel so much better about the actual prospects for thoughtful, exciting new music in 2008. Mates with Los Campesinos! and borrowing their tight angle hopeful worldviews and penchant for a prominent violinist, they have that ability to sound quite different from track to track without ever sounding like a compromise of eclecticism. Again like those early days of LC!, the four demos so far issued on self-promoted EP (entitled Philosophy Geology Music) speak of just so much potential. Other touchstones include Pavement's inscrutability, Cursive's heavy set indie-rock melodrama, the less post-hippiness parts of the indie folk brigade and a hundred other things that we can't quite place. Plus, topically, they namecheck Konnie Huq.

VISUAL AID: Of course Top Of The Pops, but once the feeling it had superceded the Chart Show for no reason other than commercial subsided we had quite a yen for CD:UK, and there's plenty of clips around, most of which of course have fewer views than "cat deeley presenting cduk wearing tight leather pants", that prove that for a Saturday morning show it liked its grand sweep of the pop world, where one minute it could have an audience clapping along to uncle Trent Reznor and the next see a Noel Gallagher interview interrupted by his mum calling or orchestrate a row between Louis Walsh and Melanie C before Pete Doherty, his top on inside out, shows off rock's least convincing stage dive and Eels dress up for the occasion. Or just Bob Geldof swearing, as he is wont to do (ignore the bloke introducing it).

* We were going to mention it soon enough, honest, but as Andrew mentioned us in the week we'll have to reciprocate with a link to the Smalltown America Records blog, inspired by Big Scary Monsters' own. STA also have their own YouTube channel, containing all the label's videos and Jetplane Landing's album recording diary plus a suitably eclectic list of favourites that among other things reveals they, like us, appreciate the inherent ridiculous of irie Paul Nicholas and his 1976 hit Reggae Like It Used To Be. "You can reggae Beethoven!"

* And in other blog news, the Nicola Roberts-obsessed sark-popism of Talent In A Previous Life has shuttered up, all lowest form of genre wit now directed towards Thickipedia.

* Acapella choir hardcore and punk covers? Could be ironic idiocy, but in the hand of Chicago's Blue Ribbon Glee Club it's something special. Everyone should hear their recorded live version of Fugazi's Waiting Room.

* While Belle & Sebastian do... something, former member Stuart David's oddball beatsy project Looper has returned from a long period of dormancy with the Strangest Girl EP, downloadable gratis via We7, subject to free registration.

* And finally, this has been round the message boards of the world for a while but it's too good not to bring to the several who may not have seen rap lyrics represented in mathematical charts and graphs.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Weekly Sweep

  • Anathallo - Hanasakajijii (Four: A Great Wind More Ash) [live YouTube]
  • Blood Red Shoes - You Bring Me Down [YouTube] (There is a new recording and video for the reissued single, but both are inferior - echoey vocal and grainy concept respectively - so we'll stick with this link if you don't mind)
  • British Sea Power - Down On The Ground [Myspace]
  • Dawn Landes - Bodyguard [YouTube]
  • Foals - Cassius [live YouTube]
  • The Futureheads - The Beginning Of The Twist [Myspace video]
  • Gindrinker - Work It Out [Myspace]
  • I Was A Cub Scout - Pink Squares [YouTube]
  • Johnny Foreigner - Our Bipolar Friends [Myspace]
  • Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit - Leftovers [Myspace]
  • Kid Harpoon - Riverside [YouTube] (And again, a video that isn't as good as the original)
  • Laura Marling - Ghosts [YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - Death To Los Campesinos! [YouTube]
  • M.I.A. - Paper Planes [YouTube]
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! [YouTube]
  • Noah And The Whale - 2 Bodies 1 Heart [YouTube]
  • School Of Language - Rockist [Myspace]
  • This City - Kids With Fireworks [Myspace]
  • Those Dancing Days - Hitten [YouTube]
  • Vampire Weekend - Oxford Comma [live YouTube]
  • Friday, January 25, 2008

    Morley of what you fancy

    "It connects you with other people... you put on the jukebox and suddenly everyone knows it, everyone can tap their feet to it. It makes a warm, living thing out of the room" - Robert Wyatt on what the pop song does

    Going back to this Pop Britannia series, the supposed centrepoint comes tonight with a debate to find the greatest decade, which won't be a pointless and ill thought out carve up missing the key areas stage by stage at all. This follows a season which incorporated all manner of repeated shows and some business that proves Charles Hazlewood, the Lidl Howard Goodall, is much more comfortable on the radio. Then there was Pop! What Is It Good For? Whether we're supposed to respond "absolutely nothing" we don't know, but it's the sort of title that suggests a thorough sociological and theoretical going over, searching for and isolating the meaning of pop and where it stands in comparison to the rest of music, or indeed the rest of art and culture itself. Kate Thornton was never in the running for this one. In fact, with Ian MacDonald dead and Simon Reynolds never camera friendly, only one man could ever have been asked to expand on the titular question.

    Accusing Paul Morley of low art pretentiousness is like accusing Samson of being a follical fashion season behind - he is what he is, and that was never the point anyway. Words And Music, the book this seemed loosely based on, may be a baffling cluster of ideas and ideologies on many fronts with page-long footnotes and an arcing storyline in which Morley hitches a lift in the car Kylie is driving at the start of the Can't Get You Out Of My Head video, but it also effortlessly traces the progression and point of the music he's spent his adult life earning his corn from. And after all that it's really a superannuated list book for all that. It just gets a bit linguistically flowery and dizzy along the way. And you shouldn't trust his sleevenotes work. (This, remember, is someone who's comfortably at home as a cultural commentator for Richard & Judy)

    So he's a pop fan - indeed, his opening words are "I love pop music", left there, nothing need be added - but one with an idea that pop goes wherever the hell on the musical scale it wants to go. Clearly, given his back pages, you don't need to be told his opening spiel, a joyously worded personal appreciation of how good pop transcends, grabs hold and changes, along with some postmodern bits. You also don't need to be told that he's going to start with "a song about a song" Can't Get You Out Of My Head, the first of six songs he picks out as demonstration of its special powers (the others, before we go further: Ride A White Swan, Lola, This Charming Man, What Do You Want?, Freak Like Me), at which essentially his big ideas hit the first wall of other people. Rob Davis may know how to construct a pop marvel, but next to Morley making connections with the Stooges and Steve Reich (although Davis does see a Philip Glass comparison in dance trend terms, when he starts invoking the power of minor chords and the "darkness" of the diminished chord you feel he's only millimetres away from declaring D minor the saddest of all the keys) his input doesn't really tell you anything beyond the basic structures, so both end up watching a monitor.

    Where the programme really worked was when Morley met people who appreciated his stance and could get where his own memories were planted - on the topic of Lola Suggs, whose band have covered it, made an autobiographical connection with his own mother's singing and work in the sort of Soho clubs Ray Davies wrote, sang and lived about as well as with with the mysteries it brought up in the adolescent mind, while This Charmind Man saw Mike Joyce look on slightly baffled as Morley and Simon Armitage took the lexicographal scalpel to its lyrics, interpreting it as a dashed love and temptation "sort of Withnail And I sketch". Adam Faith's What Do You Want?, which Morley thinks may have been the first song he ever heard, was taken as the first proper British take on an American idea, the original rock'n'roll rebellion, a round table of Peter Blake, Robert Wyatt and writer Johnny Worth evoking a lost era of genuinely new sounds, Worth crediting the song's pizzicato strings to a mix of Buddy Holly's sound and that of raindrops off London's bridge parapets, Wyatt claiming he could still remember the first verse years after he'd last heard it and Blake making connections to his own emergence on the Pop Art scene. Had the scope not been so narrow, BBC4 could eaasily have had an extra programme alone out of the rushes of that meet-up.

    Inevitably the youngsters come off less well - Tahita Bulmer made a surprise appearance and pretty much held her own, but for the final piece of the programme Morley tells the Sugababes - one of whom wasn't on the record, of course - in a BBC Children In Need backstage area about his theories of Freak Like Me, chosen as a prime example of pop plundering its own history while retaining ideas and originality (Richard X also shows up, looking a bit like Daniel Bedingfield and turning the tables by asking Morley and Anne Dudley how the Art Of Noise worked, to which Morley reveals Theresa Bazaar of Dollar nearly sang on Close To The Edit). They smile back at him, all talk at once and secretly hope the scary man isn't about to give them a cassette of his demos and a note written in illegible green ink, Morley left to admit that "pop is not what it was".

    And another thing - it was called We All Stand Together, not The Frog Chorus.

    Early on, Morley posits that the great pop songs, for all their scope, are those "you can imagine them being sung by Elvis". It's not entirely waterproof, as indeed the clips of an impersonator help prove, but it says a lot about Morley's approach - he's seduced at a base level by the glamour and possibility of pop, right through to the all-inclusive producer-led POP! of latter days and technological fair use of 'bastard pop', and how it never truly leaves anyone who chose to get involved in it. Morley excels because he has an advanced awareness of both the transient nature of the business and its Proustian possibilities, passionately talking about Ride A White Swan, the first single he bought, as his gateway into this pop cultural stratosphere, something that "we're all in this together". Everyone reading this, even the spammers, can surely emphasise, and for some it's happening right now.

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    Britannia waives the rules

    The idea behind BBC4's Pop Britannia season, the fourth in the Britannia strand after Jazz, Folk and Soul, was always going to be subject to criticism. That's the way of pop music, something the opinions placed upon which are always subject to greater forces of critical debate than normal. It's something a wider span of the public than the first three genres know and care about, and given BBC2's Seven Ages Of Rock failed to make a convincing timeline given seven hours the central three hour concept was bound to leave as many holes as it made connections. The narrative thus chosen was a kind of loose thread about the battle between the industry's commercial instincts and invention from the fringes, art versus artifice (you know, for kids) with broadly the latter, given this is 'Pop' we're dealing with, having things slightly slanted its way - but given BBC4 were selling it as All British Music Ever and the opening voiceover talked of "reinventing the great British pop dream" and how 'we' led the way in world music this seems a slightly disingenuous sell.

    When the first of three parts got over its awkward scene-setting, a cursory sweep (no writer is credited, so let's put it down to producer Ben Whalley) that lasted the entire first half attempting to set the whole first half of the 20th century's entertainment business as a "cosy cartel" centring on the Grades and making clumsy sociological grasps at "the birth of the teenager" theory in a way Colin MacInnes wouldn't have recognised (the way Anne-Marie Duff, who has completely the wrong voice for this, declares the early 50s as "old fashioned and middle aged" would do Johnny Rotten proud) - having introduced the waves of American youth rebellion, it then jumped back into presenting placid old skiffle, what the trad jazzers did with their spare time, as the shock to the traditional music business incarnate - it found a truth about the self-sufficient pop business that was essentially novelty, and about novelty. See, you can take the Beatles as your jumpoff point, as it nearly does with the famous footage of the bobby holding back the screaming waves, but the main reason why they were important is what they represented a break from, or as the script sniffily puts it that "Britain's pop revolution nearly never happened at all". which, of course, makes it interesting, being a latterly little documented facet of pop culture's history.

    When Rock Around The Clock at the start of Blackboard Jungle in 1955 introduced America to this rock and roll fad, America already had its musical background, from Broadway to jazz to the Tin Pan Alley tradition, through Sinatra and his bobby soxers. Britain didn't: the labels didn't expect rock to last, but what it had was old time entertainment, variety (different to American vaudeville) and music hall. Nobody knew what was expected of them because nobody had drafted the rules yet, so those sold as rock rebels were directed towards what they knew, big shiny family showbusiness, because there was nothing else. Little of this is really laid bare - Tommy Steele is here identified as Britain's first rock and roll star and reference is made to Larry Parnes identifying the teenage charisma dollar with his stable of similar types, but then briefly hands off his co-option into Little White Bull and Flash Bang Wallop territory to spend time on comparatively minor figure Terry Dene, portentiously held up because of mental instability as someone who "struggled to conform to the mould the music industry had allotted him" and who was set in "the straightjacket the music industry was forcing him into". Similarly, Jack Good, who invented both Oh Boy! and Six-Five Special and thus is really quite notable in charting the spread of the stars of the day, is only introduced briefly as the man who made Cliff Richard into more of an Elvis figure. A brief appearance by the reclusive producer, however, does reveal him in full monk's outfit, which is something.

    As a whole it seemed confused whether all this devil's music was a rejection of the industry's old fashioned ways or a reinforcement of them, suggesting that it didn't really make all that much difference once the initial wave receded - while inarguably great Joe Meek, held up as a totem of independent thought in a fuddy-duddy atmosphere, was still at heart making records in recognised hit styles for the major labels.

    Luckily, then the Beatles arrive and we're on much safer retrospective ground. Part two opens with a declaration that in fact all we've just seen was tightly controlled after all - indeed, we no learn everyone who'd just been talked up as Britain's most loved singers in fact "left Britain's teenagers distinctly unimpressed", because Lulu and Cilla Black preferred the Americans - and it's only in the 60s that we saw "managers and producers who turned the pop world upside down". The Beatles story has been pored over so much so it's forgiveable that, although George Martin contributes, they get put into the background to an extent - they were their own cultural event beyond anything else British pop was doing. This part takes the curious view, in retrospect knowing that this had been built up as the decade in which the creative artist was king, that it was the managers and starmakers who made it happen, taking pop out of the hands of the controlling managerial interests and delivering it to...erm...they've not thought that bit through, clearly. In fairness, though, the story has been raked over so often at least this was a new way of tackling it, even if the introduction to the Beatles via Brian Epstein admiringly refers to his developing "stable of Liverpudlian acts", presumably very difference to Parnes' stable of acts held up as the old guard ten minutes earlier. It tends to get swept up in the moment of the idea of societal change too - the case for the importance of Andrew Loog Oldham's emergence in the way he sold a rhythm and blues band as the most dangerous young men in the country is well made ("he wasn't a manager, he was an extra member"), but there is no connection however you slice it between him and Harold MacMillan's retirement. Passing by the mods and rockers fights, something very difficult to comprehend from this distance, in fifteen seconds flat as decoration for a brief offshoot into mod fashion won't do either. Was it not important in the developing media age that the Who were managed by two film-makers? It doesn't think the issue important to debate beyond reference. There's a lot of holes that the editing doesn't give room to explain either - Mickie Most apparently signed Herman's Hermits because Peter Noone reminded him of a young JFK, but we doubt that was the whole reason why he sold ten million, and we're told With reference to Most helping him take on America that Donovan's style was "hardly the stuff of pop dreams in '65", a statement which would surprise Dylan and the West Coast flower power kids. And then, after heralding this as the men upstairs' own free thinking revolution, it falls back into realising that it didn't really change the industry as much as give them ideas, the programme finding itself surprised that an industry predicated on income and catching the latest wave might be privy to unscrupulous types. You can't help thinking that going on about management to this extent is reinforcing ideas of The Music Establishment rather than acting as its counterbalance.

    It's clear before the end that this isn't actually a free flowing tale, pop music and its USPs in Britain. The first era of rock stardom lasted maybe three years; this one, it's claimed, began in 1964 and was over by 1967 when the Beatles left the road and rock music, which was apparently "conceptual, for grown-ups", became king. And then, apparently, Allan Klein splits the Beatles and "British pop seemed to be over", until complete changes of style by Marc Bolan and Slade "reclaim pop from rock". You can see the way this is going - pop, very literally, although the issues of Bowie and Roxy Music being awkward pieces to fit into the jigsaw of the time are addressed by just ignoring the difficult question of helping it hang together and getting onto Chinn & Chapman before anyone notices.

    But lo! What archive film sequence over yonder VT suite monitor breaks? See rubbish pile up in the streets and trade unions picket somewhere or other as Rick Wakeman wears a cape (Mud are directly accused of bringing the charts down too, despite glam being a great stopover point in the story last time) and the Queen celebrates the Jubilee... and here comes our saviour, and it's Johnny Rotten with his vintage mike and his small can of beer! It's surely on a special reel in the BBC archive room by now. Giving themselves a good thirty years plus to cover in part three was going to be difficult enough without going the textbook route on how Punk Was A Direct Threat To The Establishment/British Way Of Life (delete as appropriate), and especially so if you're discarding it with the stock shots and rote lines. What it does smartly show is how that anything goes attitude fed itself into what followed, the early 80's odd ideas of dressing up and presenting free-thinking works, a sea change in its own way that the sainted Neil Tennant sums up as "bringing in new references, new subject matters, doing it with glamour... learning the lessons of punk and dressing it up". Phil Oakey, if you're wondering, is the one to declare his very un-punk band were "really a punk band", although with thought at least he could show his working. Then, without spotting the lack of join, we're into Trevor Horn boasting of making records with machines (Holly Johnson is by no means a man with nothing to say, but he gets a relatively oddly lengthy amount of time to say it in given the nature of Frankie's passing show) and the declaration that New Pop was, yes, like punk had never happened. Duran Duran and Band Aid actually weren't what New Pop was, but let that pass. (Where, though, was Simon Napier-Bell, a shining example of the aforementioned PR-led svengali as well as a pawn in the underlying and never fully committed to (passing reference was made in relation to Epstein) pretty boys/gay managers issue?)

    Tennant also makes a case for the Pet Shop Boys being the turning point where the Ants-to-Wham! pop boom took in dance music, and although he's probably too diplomatic to say it it's probably also the end of the big shiny stuff's imperceptibly unique nature as here come Stock Aitken & Waterman and their in-house sound blitzing all. The clips played haven't aged well (one hears Bananarama's version of Venus and realises how far they've moved since their initial chart phase, which even they seem to have forgotten now), but that's the point. As Pete Waterman, who's already admitted writing Mel & Kim's Respectable as a kind of meta-pop stating SAW's immoveable position, points out SAW in essence were run on the same lines as Motown, with writing and production taken from a narrow field, but you sense in tone that the producer can't really make a case for this being anything more significant. Waterman does, however, believe that being hated by the NME is punk in itself ("they'd lost their sense of humour!"), which suggests that, like boy bands who make a video in which they wear silly wigs and reckon it's influenced by Spinal Tap, he really wasn't concentrating. (This, by the way, is backed up by the NME's Bad News Of The Year poll results for 1987 in which SAW come in, erm, ninth. The Conservative General Election victory won, since you ask, ahead of the Smiths split, with four tragedies, AIDS and a cancelled Prince gig also ahead).

    Again, it's notable that as we go through Stock, Waterman, Louis Walsh (and one more time round for the Late Late Show clip!), Nigel Martin-Smith and Tom Watkins (who can't have been in the public eye for a decade), the programme doesn't think to make a connection between this manager-led era and all the other manager-led eras, on any level, despite the market being so much bigger this time around. Instead it's full speed ahead to Alex James' gaff and another spin round Britpop, introduced as a reaction to boy bands immediately before Damon Albarn labels it a reaction to American rock hegemony. It feels like they've just given up trying to make a linear argument now. Bizarrely, though, then we get a clip of Menswear, because of course bandwagon jumping was invented in 1996, inspired by Alex Kapranos, who seems to be making a play as the Noughties' own Neil Tennant, commenting that the great bands were "swimming in a sea of shit" if not mentioning any by name.

    After that it seems to realise that there's not long left so cursorily races through the Spice Girls and the reality shows, spends just as much time on Gorillaz for no good reason, forgets Girls Aloud and the Sugababes school of production advancement and alights on a present day of "arty groups with their finger on the pulse of British life". Nope, us neither, but while we accept it can't just conclude "and today, well, it's transitional, and to be honest mostly shit. Go and listen to Americans. Ta-ta!" going with Franz Ferdinand as some sort of scene leader makes no sense given what the previous 175 minutes have dealt with, even with a tenuous but inevitable Internet connection (Apparently Jamie T is one of our foremost pop achievers. Who knew.) "Tin Pan Alley is no longer a relevant entity" is a key part of the conclusion, this after talking about managers and pre-packaging svengalis in the same spirit for the best part of three hours, "but the spirit...our insatiable desire for pop music, transcends both time and place." Whatever that means. Then it plays out on Foundations, just to create its own comebacks, concluding a statement of belated intent as confused as the focus of the entire series - it's sold to the casual viewer as intelligent pop for a new technological age, but really it's as much about focus artifice. It's as if rock'n'roll barely happened.

    You know whose birthday it is today?

    Jools Holland, for one. He's fifty, and this is his Dury-celebrating collaboration with Suggs (who was 47 last week):

    A year older is Adrian Edmondson. After the comedy heckler business, here he is with Roger Ruskin Spear and an electrified trouser press.

    And mate of both Vic Reeves is 49. You'd forgotten he'd did this, we'd wager.

    And yes, this has been a bit lazy this week but we've been working on a wordy piece, the fruits of which labour should be up later.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Apropos of nothing

    there are people under 25 years old who have never heard this record, or more than likely heard of this man. Their loss.

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Weekender : wondering whether each Britney New Low is properly quantifiable

    WHAT CD?
    - It's probably be impossible if one were to follow everything he posts in his blog, but regardless is it wise to follow Dev Hynes' intentions to the letter? He used to be in Test Icicles and before that the Refused-esque The Red In Sophie Loren alongside the now increasingly rated The Train Chronicles, wrote much of Wikipedia's entry for hip-hop rivalries, grew up with musicals and is obsessed with comics. So it's somewhat surprising that his new identity Lightspeed Champion has turned out to be a confessionally driven alt-country project, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge ("may well be lumped with Mika’s Life in Cartoon Motion" - Popmatters) produced by Mike Mogis in Omaha. It's no toss-off either, intricate orchestrations from members of Tilly And The Wall, The Faint, Cursive and Mogis' own Bright Eyes colleagues, not to mention Emmy The Great's backing vocal omnipresence, framing Hynes' dislocated, warm laments and streams of unconsciousness, like a British and thus far less punchable Dashboard Confessional. As for two of its most affecting tracks are called Let The Bitches Die and Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk, well, that'll be the former art-metal trickster at work.

    - We've never quite got used to the idea of Chan Marshall being referred to in passing by the name Cat Power as if it were a proper nom de plume ("Power can rescue a a well-worn standard from stifling ubiquity" - the Times). We need an internationally approved style guide. Jukebox, as well as being her second covers album (two originals, but one is her own Metal Heart, a reappropriation trick she also used on 2000's The Covers Record), is her first with a proper southern soul backing band, The Dirty Delta Blues Band (including members of the Dirty Three and Blues Explosion) and her first of her sobriety period, having been hospitalised as a result of alcoholism the week The Greatest came out. As you'd expect it's along the lines of that album that these reworkings run - Living Proof, if you want even more accurate a template - and Chan's in at least as good voice as ever, not least right at the off where she does to New York New York what she did to Satisfaction. Sometimes you wish for the old melodic awkwardness, but as a time filler before a proper follow-up of new songs rumoured to be arriving well before the end of the year it works a treat. Plus it drives Mark Ronson's reinvention pretensions into the sea.

    - We're not entirely enamoured with songwriters who work under the assumption that they can write autobiographical songs assuming their audience have followed every last detail about them, but in fairness Mark Oliver Everett probably can't help it given his much pored over family background. His lightness of songwriting touch at least tries to find some pop-rooted joy out of the darkness within, and to invoke the old cliche you forget how much greatness is included in Meet the Eels Vol. 1: Essential Eels 1996-2006, including two top ten singles, six top 40 hits - and this from a band/person keen on a themed song cycle - and much inventive post-college rock vision. There's two unreleased tracks, including their post-grunge take on Get Ur Freak On, and the self-explanatory Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2006 sweeps up the leftovers.

    - Single of the week? Noah And The Whale, a band who openly defy you to tie them into anything nu-folk. The arrangements are feather-light, Charlie Fink (we're assuming not the one who sang with the Jesus Lizard-esque Penthouse in the late 90s, although stranger things have happened - see top of this section)'s voice rich in baritone, Wes Anderson's works never off the DVD player, 2 Bodies 1 Heart/Rocks & Daggers two sumptuous songs for a double A side. Props once again to Young & Lost Club, and we promise we'll overlook all that Joe Lean etc. nonsense if their forthcoming album, the label's first, is all this good.

    COMING SOON: Unlike many a band caught in the Hype Machine chart headlights early on, the far too clever for their own good Vampire Weekend have come through with a strong first album, released on the 28th, that simultaneously reflects and belies their own Upper West Side Soweto tag. They've got far to go, not that they're not somewhere good already, as proved when they popped into MTV's Camden Lock glittering palace recently to go through acoustic versions of Mansard Roof, Oxford Comma and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.

    MYSPACE INVADERS: James Yuill, who played with Gindrinker earlier this week and is hopefully all the better for the experience, is a prime exponent of what used to be called folktronica. Very literally so, too, more so than the likes of Tunng or Adem, as laptop electro blends effortlessly with delicate guitars. Think of what Jamie Liddell did to his hot buttered soul and transpose it onto strong folk storytelling, or Iron & Wine on Ed Banger.

    VISUAL AID: "Have the Rolling Stones killed." The House Of Guitars is a much loved huge music store in Rochester, New York that has provided a mecca for many a local musician. It doesn't hinder your image when the Ramones are appearing in your adverts, even if they're hijacking it to get you to buy Leave Home and Rocket To Russia instead. What effect this decidedly odd public access plug had is unknown. While we're about it, let's drop in on Joey's cameo on The Drew Carey Show, an oddly camp Joey fronting Judy Is A Punk in 1974 and Lemmy eventually helping out on R.A.M.O.N.E.S. at their final show.

    * Not only does the aforementioned Dev Hynes have an active blog of active self-loathing - and one word, Dev, 'backup' - but he's a prolific video blogger too, his YouTube profile containing not only an excellently wide variety of Favourites but also assorted live clips, home recorded scraps, pieces of inconsequentialism. As far as we can tell from our parochial viewpoint, seeing an artist of international reknown filming the hot drinks machine in the reception area of the Y Theatre, Leicester is just what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind when he legged it down the patent office.

    * 28 miles north, according to the AA route planner, of said entertainment venue/disenfranchised youth dosshouse is Nottingham, where we find Love Ends Disaster!, who while recording their debut album are giving away their 2005 debut EP Stories For The Dislocated for free. People who like the sound of something that references Gang Of Four, the Fall and Bloc Party and then rips all their pass notes to shreds, step this way.

    * Following last week's not so disguised Noah And The Whale Myspace outlet, is this or is this not the Long Blondes? The first track certainly sounds like what an LBs/Erol Alkan link would sound like and it repeats the word 'Century', which is known to be the working title of one of their new songs.

    * So we've done special recordings of bands many times over now, where's the next interactive idea for the music blogosphere coming from? Write Me Stories, perhaps, which collects handwritten very short stories and scribblings from musicians that take his fancy, including all of Arcade Fire, Wayne Coyne, Sufjan Stevens, Calexico, Explosions In The Sky, Neil Hannon, Ben Folds, Jens Lekman, Jeffrey Lewis, Hope Of The States, the Dresden Dolls, Andrew Bird, The Moldy Peaches, The Polyphonic Spree, I'm From Barcelona and so on.

    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    The Weekly Sweep

  • A Classic Education - Victories At Night [live YouTube]
  • Anathallo - Hanasakajijii (Four: A Great Wind More Ash) [live YouTube]
  • Blood Red Shoes - You Bring Me Down [YouTube]
  • British Sea Power - Canvey Island [live YouTube]
  • Dawn Landes - Bodyguard [YouTube]
  • Foals - Cassius [live YouTube]
  • The Futureheads - The Beginning Of The Twist [live acoustic La Blogotheque-esque YouTube]
  • Gindrinker - Work It Out
  • Gossamer Albatross - Held Hands [Myspace]
  • I Was A Cub Scout - Pink Squares [YouTube]
  • Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit - Leftovers [Myspace]
  • Los Campesinos! - Death To Los Campesinos! [YouTube]
  • Madness - NW5 [YouTube]
  • M.I.A. - Paper Planes [YouTube]
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! [YouTube]
  • Noah And The Whale - 2 Bodies 1 Heart [YouTube]
  • School Of Language - Rockist [Myspace]
  • Those Dancing Days - Hitten [YouTube]
  • Vampire Weekend - A-Punk [YouTube]
  • The Young Playthings - Hot Sex With A Girl I Love [YouTube]
  • Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Sometimes it's hard to be a woman

    Over at the Word magazine blog someone posted a live clip of Lightspeed Champion/Queens Of Noize-affiliated blues-folky singer Florence And The Machine last week. With, as the commenters state, nothing to go on but the YouTube embed still, it attracted these comments:

    "I just know I'm going to hate it. I never watch clips of moody adolescents performing in bright orange tops. It just puts me in a mood. She'll probably be huge."

    "It’s as phoney as Westlife. I bet in real life she’s really nice to her pony."

    So much for advancing yourself musically.

    Who would now launch themselves as a female singer-songwriter? The year, frankly, has been tied up, and tied up with two singers getting by on welters of post-Winehouse publicity well out of focus of what they actually do, who the press and record industry are putting so much into that either failing to sell hundreds of thousands of records would cause more major label damage than ten Terra Firmas - Adele, an Alison Moyet for the Nambucca kids with a producer determined to make her into Melanie C, and Duffy, a carefully crafted 'a bit like Dusty if it's on in the background' diva in the old fashioned sense of the word who has had the misfortune to be teamed with serial studio reputation wrecker Bernard Butler. Australian Xenomania associate Gabriella Cilmi, being 'a bit bluesy', is set to follow them into New Winehouse racks any day.

    But of course what our friends up there are referring back to is the curse of any teenage or slightly above guitar playing diary-opening Blue-owning (as in Joni Mitchell's Blue, but it's always advisable to have a boy band loving past to 'shamefully' admit to in broadsheet interviews) singer-songwriter who attracts more than ten people to a London gig, that of being The New Kate Nash. Kate Nash, of course, used to be The New Lily Allen, and the new names bear about as much resemblance to Nash as those two do to each other, which is to say nothing of much depth, but the die has been cast, and while Adele escaped into more rarefied air once XL took her acoustic off her it's too late if you're writing about Laura Marling, Laura Groves, the hopeless Remi Nicole, our old friend Emmy The Great (who brought out her first 7" in the same month as Nash's first gig, but facts won't help you now)... hell, even George Pringle was tipped as a New Nash, presumably by someone who wasn't listening properly if they thought she has massive commercial potential.

    This isn't really your standard music press pigeonholing either, as while it's either an accident of birth or of arrangement - anyone can be Nu-Rave with a flourescent top and a keyboard - there's not a lot of leeway if you're a female singer-songwriter. KT Tunstall, it's not overlooked, was originally dismissed as a New Dido as much for when she came around as what she does (whatever did happen to Jem?) but is now a supposed mainstream arbiter of cool herself, which is why you now don't see a photo of Amy MacDonald in which she isn't cradling an acoustic guitar. Where will it all lead? Maybe the second Lily Allen album will sound like a new Adele and then the music world will swallow itself whole.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    From The Desk Of Mr. Jeremy Warmsley

    Normally we'd save this sort of thing for Weekender, but this looks too good to hold onto for another half a week:

    "Just wanted to let you know about a new project I've been working on with Fay Buzzard. It's an online TV show called Welcome To Our TV Show! and it's very nice. The first episode features Mystery Jets, Laura Marling, Noah & The Whale and myself and can be seen at"

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Sounds, no vision

    We'll start our first mp3 roundup of 2008 with something new from one of America's most celebrated literary lo-fi favourites. The Mountain Goats' Heretic Pride, released February 18th, is their fourth album on 4AD - got it right that time - and sixteenth in seventeen years in total. After two confessional collections this one returns to John Darnielle's storied song cycle routine and is not conceivably worse off for it. This opening track is about the nature of love and returning home therein. Two other notes: the advance copy press release features a three page explanation of the songs' themes as drawn by Jeffrey Lewis (click on '1', '2' and '3' on this story); and their Myspace features 2005 single Dance Music recorded from - not for, from - a Peel show and hasn't been accessed since June 2006. That's the spirit!

    The Mountain Goats - Sax Rohmer #1

    (Further Darnielle reading: his blog, Last Plane To Jakarta, and/or Daniel Handler interview for The Believer. And, if you really want, you can download Darnielle's acoustic Suede cover.)

    Sax Rohmer was a Birmingham-born peacetime novellist who created Fu Manchu, but it's not especially about him. The second song is inspired by but not named after "artist, perspectival moral relativist, atheist, vitalist and socialist" Teemu Mäki, who in 1988 was prosecuted over a video installation called Sex And Death, during which in the subtle fashion we expect of new artistry he stabs a stray cat to death and then masturbates. It's by fellow Finns (well, we've had enough Swedes and Norwegians already) Cats On Fire, who we drew attention to on Weekender but whose album The Province Complains slipped through our net last year, sounding somewhere between the Smiths (especially vocally), Felt, the Monochrome Set and Belle & Sebastian. So not the most hardcore of bands, but they make a very attractive noise.

    Cats On Fire - The Smell Of An Artist

    Ice, Sea, Dead People is not the most promising name you've ever heard for a band. "I hate it sometimes too" admitted singer Craig Sharp, which isn't promising. Unlike their sound. Artrocker are behind this Bedford art-punk trio who class themselves alongside the likes of Future Of The Left and Maths Class and cite influence from Fugazi, Liars, Jarcrew and Q And Not U, which all matches up. Essentially, it's sharp as a needle splintered post-hardcore that deserves another quote: "the one thing this single proved to us is that we want to be as uncompromising as possible. If people don't like it, they're welcome to step off and search for the next NME-sponsored piece of crap - we don't want people like that anyway. We're here to make music that we'd listen to normally, to have fun and not to groom our egos or re-live some boring, tired rock and roll clichés or even brand new, luminous new ones."

    Ice, Sea, Dead People - Hence:Elvis

    On a completely different musical tack, Gossamer Albatross isn't much better as a band name but at least there's a solid reason for it, being the name of the first human-powered plane to cross the Channel. The band comprise an 18, 17 and 16 year old from Hereford who instantly make a mockery of their peers' London press-powered Pull In Emergency/Bombay Bicycle Club teen scene's slavish post-Liberstrokesparty sound by claiming influence from Neutral Milk Hotel, The Magnetic Fields and Final Fantasy, and having the ability to back it up. Their strings-led sound definitely makes them part of this fast growing lo-fi folk scene enough to file them alongside the likes of Jonquil, Noah And The Whale and Luke Leighfield, also with hints of Jeremy Warmsley's ambition, Beirut's baroqueness and M Ward's ideas. In a nutshell, their EP, which can be ordered through their Myspace, is four tracks of all kinds of wonderful from a band you'll be hearing a lot about if we're any judge. They've played with Napoleon IIIrd, the aforementioned Jonquil, SixNationState, Sam Isaac and This Ain't Vegas, and Londoners can see them at Notting Hill Arts Club's free Saturday afternoon RoTA event on 8th March.

    Gossamer Albatross - Raging Bulls

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Weekender : saving sanity

    WHAT CD?: In Shops Tomorrow was all well and good, but in the end it became a pick'n'mix of wheat and chaff with little to distinguish the two, so from here it'll be shortened down so you know the following are of a particularly high quality:

    - Agragarian individualists, twitcher lunatic fringe and appreciatories of the qualities of good fell walking gear, usually by wearing it on stage, British Sea Power remain one of our more cherishable bands. And not just for everything around the music, although all the Newsboosts and curious merchandising opportunities helps, even if the piercing stares, rigging climbing and crash gymnastics have been quietly phased out - the branches and Ursine Ultra will, you feel, always be around, now joined by massive flags on the drum riser. No, from the Bunnymen sweep and Cold War Pixies wiredness of The Decline Of British Sea Power to the streamlined open expanses of Open Season there's always been something there, and behind the unrepossessing Arthur Conley-appropriating title Do You Like Rock Music? lies perhaps their most affecting work to date. In short, they're still like nobody else. Alright, if it sounds like the ghosts of Canadian choral valhallas has swept in it's not surprising given parts were recorded at Hotel2Tango with Arcade Fire's Howard Bilerman and GY!BE/A Silver Mt Zion's Efrim Menuck as well as with Graham Sutton (Open Season, Jarvis, Delays) variously in a Czech forest, Cornish fort and Suffolk water tower. And yes, now you know that it sounds like it too, but Win and Regine had only just met when Fear Of Drowning introduced the world to BSP, and furthermore there was always a massive reverb element to them at their most anthemically huge. Now, they have the confidence to broaden their horizons and really go for the overwhelming burn while expanding their reach to welcome 'indie' waifs and strays into their world without moving their own worldview an inch. There's church mantras, Julian Cope psychouts, anthemics that pull the rug out from under themselves, uncomfortable serenity and references to Canvey Island's deadly floods of 1953 as a reference to climate change (incorporating all too topical opening line "H5N1 killed a wild swan"), western migration and its relationship to alcohol intake, the Great Skua seabird and Big Daddy. It's the first special album of 2008, and when it's forgotten about come the end of year polls as a result of being released too early by too offkilter a band you may if you wish paw at the ground in frustration. (One worrying detail - the inevitably longeur-friendly press release refers to this as where "British Sea Power’s long game comes to a compelling conclusion")

    (Also - and this was quick of them - Club 8's The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming eventually gets a UK release)

    - Mark Oliver Everett, E to you, has never really milked the survivalist angle from his famously death-laden life story - sure, it's got him down often, but it's grist to the songwriting mill in the long run. Autobiography Things The Grandchildren Should Know is thus not Dave Eggers material, Everett being too self-aware to go the Real Life Tragedy route, just direct, smart and still pathos-laden as befits Rolling Stone's label of "the Kurt Vonnegut of rock". And, lest we forget, during all this turmoil Eels, about whom more next month, were one place away from chalking up three UK top ten singles, something he also tries to make sense off. And there's an audio book out next week.

    - Single of the week is a dead heat, and both quiet surprises in their own way. Sons & Daughters, for so long staking out the dark underbelly and getting Adele to malevolently shriek at it, go almost pop on Darling, while Dev Hynes finds room between gigging, diarising, shmoozing and all points in between to continue Lightspeed Champion's adventures in open hearted Americana on Tell Me What It's Worth.

    COMING SOON: As it says - what we can find in preview of an album that's soon come.
    Cat Power, for instance, Chan about to issue her second covers record Jukebox, out on the 21st and sounding pretty good. Live from the Hit Factory, Florida, we find Chan recording a vocal take on Dark End Of The Street and half-remembering a Christina Aguilera song.

    MYSPACE INVADERS: You know, the thing before Facebook. It's a better title for this section, let's be fair. If you've added us on Myspace you probably have a better chance of getting into here this year now we've thoroughly fumigated our friends list, but we retain the right to pick up on the hype of the hour as it suits.
    So, new year, but still the bands from Brighton come. This City have been compared to At The Drive-In, the Blood Brothers and Les Savy Fav, have supported Biffy Clyro, Future Of The Left and Sparta and had an drummer who now fronts touted hardcore metallers Architects. They also had a drummer who is now in the Pipettes, but we'll gloss over that MacGuffin. Anyway, you've kind of got the idea from the first list - rooted in US underground-influenced melodic hardcore and staccato jigsaw dance-post-punk with an especially British intensity. "A deranged live following", it says here, and we can well believe that.

    VISUAL AID: Those watching the Pop Britannia series will appreciate that even after the rock'n'roll explosion and the impact on television entertainment of Oh Boy! and Six-Five Special bands were still as much corralled into the variety act model as the singers that had preceded them. Even the Beatles, while they were still the loveable mop-tops of now very costly merchandise fame, were just another bone for the bobbysoxers. This Granada report in 1963 had the right idea from the very first statement: "We have always thought that it might be a good question to put to Mr Kenneth Dodd and the members of the Beatles to what extent do they attribute their success to their hairstyles." Ken pretty much takes this one over, what with his 'yakky juice' and and "Segovia - she's no mug", the pun in which we're still struggling with. In the same year they met Morecambe & Wise finding their TV feet on ITV's Two Of A Kind (link changed to longer, better quality version - thanks, Chris!) John, frankly, is not going to win that one.

    LINKS EFFECT: Basically anything and everything else of note.
    * You'll note we've added a shitload of recommended blogs to the sidebar recently, of which the one we most want to highlight is the fantastically titled Because Midway Still Aren't Coming Back. With early to mid 90s indie-when-it-really-was-indie nostalgia prevalent among many a blogger who should know better, it's a wonder the gap in the market wasn't filled sooner of Proustian rush-facilitating mp3s of bands who achieved small levels of success during that period - the most recent post is a perfect example, being the Nilon Bombers' great lost list song (at least it was lost when we were compiling our list song Covermount) Superstar. Also, someone in a comments box mentions that Sleeper had an official fanzine. Those were the days, when even Sleeper could bring together enough people to justify an official fanzine.

    * Still got your cassette-playing boomboxes? Alcopop! Records, who put out the 4 Or 5 Magicians single and are a child company of the highly impressive Big Scary Monsters, have put out Alcopopular Vol.2, an MC of fifteen tracks by the likes of Jeremy Warmsley, Sky Larkin, Johnny Foreigner, Dartz!, the Young Playthings, Sam Isaac and Kid Carpet. Order for four of your English from here.

    * A while back - last July, to be precise - we brought up Twenty Questions, a ploy of sending the same, er, twenty questions for answering by different bands that we often wish we'd come up with when struggling for interview inspiration. Since then, among the many for whom the enquiries have been recycled are Kevin Drew, Jens Lekman, Band Of Horses, Johnny Foreigner, Emmy The Great, Scout Niblett, Noah And The Whale, El Perro Del Mar, Frank Turner, The Broken Family Band and Dan Deacon.

    * In 1974 Vivian Stanshall, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band long gone and merely now an occasional Peel standin and larking about partner of Keith Moon, recorded Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead, featuring guest appearances by Neil Innes and Steve Winwood and largely based around Afro-beats long before Eno or world musicians started utilising them, otherwise soaked in blues, disenchantment, sexual suggestion and, being Viv Stanshall, vast amounts of alcohol. There is a petition to get Warners to reissue the long out of print album with coming up for 2,000 signatories; while we're waiting, a lo-fi version is freely downloadable.

    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Anathallo - Hanasakajijii (Four: A Great Wind More Ash) [live YouTube]
  • BARR - The Song Is The Single [YouTube]
  • Blood Red Shoes - You Bring Me Down [YouTube]
  • British Sea Power - Waving Flags [YouTube]
  • I Was A Cub Scout - Pink Squares [YouTube]
  • Kat Flint - Go Faster Stripes [YouTube]
  • The Kills - U.R.A. Fever [YouTube]
  • Laura Marling - Ghosts [YouTube]
  • Lightspeed Champion - Tell Me What It's Worth [YouTube]
  • The Lionheart Brothers - 50 Souls and a Disco Bowl [YouTube]
  • Los Campesinos! - Death To Los Campesinos! [YouTube]
  • Madness - NW5 [YouTube]
  • M.I.A. - Paper Planes [YouTube]
  • Noah And The Whale - 2 Bodies 1 Heart [YouTube] (On the subject of whom, what's all this then?)
  • School Of Language - Rockist [Myspace]
  • Sons & Daughters - Darling [YouTube]
  • Sugarcubes - Deus [YouTube]
  • Supergrass - Diamond Hoo Ha Man [Myspace]
  • Those Dancing Days - Hitten [YouTube]
  • The Young Republic - Blue Skies [Myspace]
  • Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Forgive us

    if we don't post much this week, we're still recovering from the thousands of words committed to screen over the last month. What we will say is if you're into experimental wonky indiepop, or like a dose of disturbed eerie post-post-punk noise
    being derailed, or are still working your way through the American underground's good names to drop in polite hipster company, or are Gareth Campesinos!, you need to be aware that Xiu Xiu are Myspace streaming the whole of new album Women As Lovers a couple of weeks ahead of release.

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    Because it worked so well last time

    Coming up soon (by which we mean before the end of February), as well as a second Primer and hopefully a couple of Friendly Chats, we're resuscitating Songs To Learn And Sing, our past feature in which guest bloggers wrote up the one song they think everyone should hear, as an occasional feature. The 43-strong back catalogue is readable here and we have some names lined up for the near future, but we're always looking for volunteers to get in touch via email or Myspace/Facebook message.

    Sunday, January 06, 2008

    The shape of things to come

    We've already told you about some of the bands we're looking for strong progression in during 2008, and alongside those here's a large selection of forthcoming albums which are set fair for your Wishlists. The best thing is, of course, even this certainly isn't the be-all and end-all - there's been plenty of great stuff out in 2007 we had no clue about last January. Just remember that as a get-out clause when these let you down.

    !Forward Russia! - Life Processes
    Leeds' most hyperactive go more structured and, dare we say, more epic on their spring second album, some of which is being previewed in video form.

    Absentee - Spitting Feathers
    They finished an album in December for spring/summer release, about which they say "we feel confident that if you enjoyed our previous efforts at recording albums, this next offering should be no disapointment... it could even be the kind of record you play to a friend, spouting a drunken declaration along the lines of "life wont be the same after this", or something equally regretable."

    Now moved from Michigan to Chicago and changed a couple of members along the way, that unconventially expansive band we banged on about to little UK outcome in 2006 have been working for most of the second half of 2007 on an album with the producers of Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog. It's actually been picked up for British release, and will come here with a bonus CD of earlier songs.

    The Avalanches
    They couldn't, could they? Remarkably their label rejected their first effort at a follow-up to 2001's sampleadelica Since I Left You because it was "too rushed"; late summer for the proper version, rumours say.

    Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward
    Side projects thoroughly dealt with, the excitable youths return in mid-March with a more surf and Stooges-indebted record.

    Belle & Sebastian
    It's never wise to try and second-guess Stuart Murdoch's intentions, but there are rumours of some sort of release, probably an EP, before his Heaven Help The Girl musical project comes to fruition, its soundtrack possibly sneaking out before the year is done.

    Billy Bragg - Mr Love And Justice
    Yeah, that title about sums him up. Out on March 8th, it's his first new material in six years, Robert Wyatt guesting as well as the returning Blokes.

    Blood Red Shoes - Box Of Secrets
    Feels like this has been imminent all year, but 7th April is the latest mooted date. Indications are more Steven lead vocals than we've heard previously and more disco-post-punk noise than most bands of twice the personnel manage.

    Bob Mould - District Line
    We've heard this before, but apparently this, out on 4th February, is a return to the hook-laden power of his later Husker Du/Sugar days, if through the prism of a 47 year old.

    The Boy Least Likely To
    You'd forgotten about them, hadn't you? Their ill-fated attempt at proper pop stardom finished with an inevitable dropping, so they're back to self-releasing a second album they finished the bulk of in September, featuring the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

    The Breeders - Mountain Battles
    The April 7th release will be six years since Title TK, but it was nine between that and Last Splash and there's been two years of the Pixies roadshow in between so it barely matters. Also out in 2008, a book of Kelley Deal knitted handbag patterns. That's not a joke.

    British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
    Their old tag of "high church amplified rock music" bears full fruit on this third album, issued 12th January and produced by Arcade Fire associate Howard Bilerman and GY!BE/A Silver Mt Zion’s Efrim Menuck. This is the one for this year that most will forget about by December listmaking season despite its spectacularity.

    Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning
    Well, Kevin Drew did say. May, say whispers. This Book is Broken: An Oral History Of Broken Social Scene (already?) is also due out come autumn.

    Cat Power - Jukebox
    We've got an advance of this on a promise not to post any of it, but as well as that it's an 'edited' version which fades everything out early. Hardly seems all that fair. It's her second covers album, in the style of The Greatest, and it's out January 21st.

    Colin Meloy - Skulls, Ship, Sheep
    Reports have it that the Decemberists' leader is planning a solo collection under this name for April, having previously toured alone at the start of 2007, where the stage was decorated with a skull, a ship and a sh...oh, right.

    Conor Oberst & M Ward
    Good lord. This entirely comes from a piece in Omaha City Weekly, which mentions in passing that the pair, long term compadres, are planning a band and record together.

    CSS (Cansei De Ser Sexy? What's the agreed blogger style guide on common name usage?)
    Having spent what seems like eighteen months as UK residents the sixsome have retreated back to Brazil to work on a second album for summer release.

    dEUS - Vantage Point
    Antwerp's finest are back on full power after their 2005 return and release their fifth album on April 21st.

    Dexys Midnight Runners - It's OK Joanna
    Every chance we'll be tipping this for 2009 too, knowing the state Kevin Rowland can get into, but as it was promised for '07 and a demo is on the Kevin maintained band Myspace presumably it's some of the way down the line.

    The trio started writing their fourth album in June 2006 and started recording in February. By September they had eight tracks down and Andy was about to become a father. Who knows, frankly.

    Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
    One of our most underappreciated bands went self-powered for this one, produced by keyboardist Craig Potter for March release.

    Emmy The Great
    Still sticking with the home startup Close Harbour, in this international year of the female singer-songwriter she's reportedly slowly working on a full release.

    Final Fantasy - Heartland
    After a year of violin and arranger for hire status Owen Pallett's third story arc of an album, which he describes as "exactly like He Poos Clouds but with better microphones (and) better writing", is due summer/autumn time.

    Foals - Antidotes
    March is the ETA for the Dave Sitek-produced kaleidoscope of art-post-punk promising an afrobeat influence, but who doesn't nowadays.

    Frank Turner
    Clearly as restless in the studio as he is with the touring bug, Turner follows up 2007's Sleep Is For The Week on March 31st.

    Franz Ferdinand
    They're going around this the long way, by the sounds of it, having only just started recording after sessions starting in January 2006. More synths, supposedly, dancier, and a Xenomania production credit.

    The Futureheads
    To be released on a label being set up between band and management after 679 dumped them like herpes, Youth is at the controls for what's said to be a tighter, faster third set.

    Gang Of Four
    They've been talking about following up their 2004-05 reunion tour for a while, but Dave Allen's blog has had fragments of demos up recently, looking at least towards a spring EP.

    Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly - Searching For The Hows And Whys
    March 3rd sees Sam Duckworth return with a record co-produced by Nitin Sawhney, said to be slightly more on the electronic side.

    Green Gartside and Alexis Taylor
    Sounds promising already, doesn't it? It's a matter of record that he who is Scritti Politti and the mainstay of Hot Chip (they've got an album on the way too) played a low-key gig last March and were reportedly working on Gartside's new material together.

    Gnarls Barkley
    Both Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse have other projects, but the latter revealed in September "We've started to throw some ideas around, and we've started on some rough demo stuff. But it's still a little way away. But we want to make the record sooner rather than later - just go in there an continue what we're doing."

    Word is that this one's even more wideranging in its scope than Through The Window Pane - Prince, Talk Talk and Bollywood have been namechecked. March or April, say the straws in the wind.

    Half Man Half Biscuit
    Woo! "Early-ish" is all the band will currently let on, although at time of posting it's not been completed; Bad Loser At Yahoo Chess is the title of one song recently debuted live.

    The Hot Puppies - Blue Hands
    The album that's been 'about to be released' for a good half a year already, the Aberystwythians' imperious Blondieish new wave really should have been picked up on by a label by now, eh?

    Jeffrey Lewis
    Don't kill us if this doesn't happen, but the story was that 12 Crass Songs was a stopgap ahead of a proper new collection this year. Its relative success - it's only released in America in January - might affect things, though.

    Jeremy Warmsley
    He's spent most of 2007 working on the second album, partly with an unnamed big shot producer, and the results we've heard live veer towards the electronic Rufus Wainwright side, not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit
    Razorlight's most unlikely labelmate, Flynn's been recording over the autumn in a barn in Seattle, which seems about right, with Ryan Hadlock (Gossip, Blonde Redhead, Afghan Whigs, Stephen Malkmus), which seems interesting.

    Kat Flint - Dirty Birds
    If you were one of those who helped finance its recording you should have a copy already, but the rest will have to wait until March for her beguiling folk-noir.

    The Kills - Midnight Boom
    You never thought you'd see the day when Jamie Hince's name would get 58 hits on Google News. VV and Hotel return on March 17th with an album co-produced by someone called Armani XXXchange, apparently dark and grooveladen, in a way.

    The Long Blondes - Couples
    Erol Alkan's at the helm for this April 7th release, on which it seems Kate Jackson will delve even further into her Blondie mode.

    Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...
    Eighteen months on from when we first went nuts about them, and having completely failed to turn up on anyone's tips for 2008 list (check Google News if you don't believe us), an album lands with Broken Social Scenester Dave Newfeld at the controls, out on February 25th.

    M83 - Saturdays = Youth
    "More song-based" is, as Nigel Blackwell has pointed out, a stupid thing to say about a record, but that's the structure Anthony Gonzalez is apparently taking up for his fifth album on April 14th, produced by Ken Thomas (Sigur Ros, Clinic, Hope Of The States) and Ewan Pearson (The Rapture, Ladytron, loads of remixes)

    Please, allow us some cultural leeway. Single NW5 is out in two weeks' time, a self-released album following in March.

    Having lost bassist Johan Wohlert during the endless touring for And the Glass Handed Kites, Denmark's finest are due to go back into the studio in January, and given the layers they usually employ you'd best write this in in pencil.

    MF Doom - Doompostor
    The rumour doing the rounds is while Daniel Dumile waits for Ghostface to stop fannying around (technical term) with the Wu-Tang and get back to work on their next collaboration he's prepared his first solo work in three and a half years.

    The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
    Fans as we are of wordy American collegiate indie kids, we've never really covered John Darnielle on co on here before, so let's bring to your attention this tremendous fourth album released on February 18th.

    My Bloody Valentine
    Let's just quote Kevin Shields. "We were making a record in the 90s, around when the band broke up in 1995, and I continued with Bilinda...It’s going to be this ‘96/‘97 record half-finished record finished, and then a compilation of stuff we did before that in 1993–94, and a little bit of new stuff."

    Mystery Jets - 21
    Whispers have it that they've become more linear coinciding with Henry Harrison's retirement from live performance, although he's still a studio member. We'll see in March with an Erol Alkan-helmed album, the first single featuring Laura Marling.

    Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
    Studio album fourteen arrives on 3rd March, carrying on to an extent where Cave left off with Grinderman and sporting a title track referencing Houdini and the Velvet Underground equally

    Peter Moren
    The main songwriter for and former of Peter, Bjorn & John had some songs that didn't fit in with them, so at the end of 2007 he recorded them with friends and plans a summer expedition out.

    PJ Harvey & John Parish
    John Parish wouldn't be our choice of a palette cleanser after White Chalk's emotional wringer, but there you go. Their second title collaboration after 1995's Dance Hall At Louse Point is being recorded this month for September issue.

    Eleven years on from the much forgotten second album, April seems the likely release date and the new songs played at their Nightmare Before Christmas ATP suggest a more pulsing industrial and motorik-influenced sound.

    REM - Accelerate
    Jacknife Lee production has been the downfall of more in-form bands but there's good vibes surrounding the songs heard at their Dublin 'public rehearsals' in July. "Upbeat pop, bit like the IRS days", it's been said. March 31st or April 7th is the UK date.

    School Of Language - Sea From Shore
    David Brewis' first work outside the Field Music conglomerate, out on 4th February, is a set of obtuse cut-and-paste laptop pop songs featuring vocals from Barry and Jaff Futureheads and, wow, Marie du Santiago from Kenickie.

    Shearwater - Rook
    Having fully participated in our album of 2007 The Stage Names, Jonathan Meiburg's other band spent November in a Texan studio and release is pencilled in for May.

    Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
    David Berman's dark poetic oddities get a sixth runout, apparently now later than the advertised April. Berman says these are more story-based songs, and "every song has a function or meaning that you could sum up in a few words." Mmm.

    Sons And Daughters - This Gift
    Naturally suspicious as we are of Bernard Butler productions, while this is glossier and poppier than the first two albums it's still corkscrew-tight and full of intrigue. 28th January isn't that long to wait.

    The Spinto Band
    No idea what's going on here, but the Spintos were at mixing stage last they told their website in October, so spring/summer seems reasonable.

    Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash
    Face The Truth was a bit of a washout, but hell, it's still Malkmus. March 3rd sees the second album with the band co-credited, a band that now includes drummer Janet Weiss, recently with Bright Eyes but once and forever the Sleater-Kinney percussionsmith.

    Supergrass - Diamond Hoo Ha
    So that's why Gaz and Danny have been touring as Diamond Hoo Ha Men. They don't feel like a band six albums down, do they? 24th March is the date for what's talked up as a return to hard riffing helmed by Nick Launay, whose production credits start with Public Image Ltd and to date go to Grinderman.

    Tapes N Tapes
    Ah, the difficult post-blog hype album. Dave Fridmann, who's also worked on MGMT's album, produced, and as it wrapped up in October we're guessing late spring.

    Tilly And The Wall
    Some of them are on the Lightspeed Champion album; all of them started work on a new album last July and test it on an American tour in March.

    Tokyo Police Club
    Much as it already feels like they've been about for a while they've only actually issued an EP and a single. Mixing over Christmas, summer should see both a load of UK festivals and a release.

    The Victorian English Gentlemens Club
    We reckon a strong second album could send our favourite Welsh trio over the top into proper recognition, we reckon, and they've been playing a number of new songs all year.

    The Young Knives - Super Abundance
    Not a promising title, all told, but the few new songs we've heard are strong in the same sense that the best of Voices Of Animals And Men was, if a bit more direct. Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Hefner, Dirty Pretty Things for the money) produces, March awaits.

    And to add dates and titles to the Class Of '08:
    The Indelicates - American Demo (14th April)
    Laura Marling - Alas I Cannot Swim (4th Febuary)
    Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off The Lavender Bridge (21st January)
    MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (21st January)
    Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (28th January)
    The Young Republic - 12 Tales From Winter City (January)

    In shops tomorrow - slight return

    The weekend weekly business begins again next weekend, as the music industry isn't back at work yet. We should take a moment out, though, to mention the first quality singles of 2008, British Sea Power's Waving Flags and the Kills' 7" U.R.A. Fever, both of which are out tomorrow.