Thursday, 25 September 2014

Allo Darlin' - We Come From the Same Place (Fortuna Pop!)

"Nothing feels like it did before, and I am grateful for that," sings Elizabeth Morris on 'Crickets in the rain', and with that the downbeat tiredness (but still beautiful) of 'Europe' is put to bed. Locked away. It's time to move on, and life is good.

Allo Darlin', perhaps more than any other indiepop band (if, indeed, that's what they are), have been so closely watched over the last four years. Births, break-ups, marriages, moves and a triumphant emotional comeback-of-sorts at this year's Indietracks - all over the space of three albums. 'We come from the same place' is the perfect, rounded end to their first three albums, in which they've not so much grown up in the limelight, as had it shone so brightly on them.

'We come from the same place' is the sound of a band on top of their game - a band who can write just about any song you want them to. 'Angela' is a deeply delicate hymn to love, but is followed up by new single 'Bright Eyes' - the romping, stomping duet between Morris and Paul Rains (whose guitar playing is the real star of this album, by the way). A call-and-answer masterpiece, it's the feelgood hit of the Autumn: "It feels better hanging out with you." Indeed.

Elsewhere, on the title track, Morris's voice, not for the first or last time in the band's time together, soars and then breaks and then does that thing that invokes such emotion that it's hard not to believe anything is possible. It's the past four years synthesised into one perfect four-and-a-half minutes.

Morris is again to the fore in the reflective 'History lessons', in which she rails against nostalgia and vents her frustration that we can't and don't celebrate the here and now and, for that matter, the future. The indiepop scene would do well to take notice.

There's even a hint of Britpop in 'Half heart necklace', which, if not exactly a straight down the line rock track, gives Rains the chance to sketch distorted shapes with his guitar as Morris tells the tale of her childhood back in Australia.

Back to 'Crickets in the Rain', though, which is the real star of the show. Perhaps harking back to older Allo Darlin' songs (at least musically), it's the one with the killer chorus, and another in which the vocals crackle and spark just enough to keep your eyes moistening. And there's that guitar leading everyone a very merry dance, as again, Morris puts nostalgia in its place. No looking back now.

'Another year' ends the album, and still the themes are travel and moving on and not going back. If this song about leaving on a plane is a metaphor for the whole album, or whether it's simply a tale about moving to Italy - it matters not. Sure, there's self-doubt here, but, y'know... onwards.

Much has happened to Allo Darlin' since their self-titled album bounced into the world back in 2010. That they're still around, writing songs as complete and life-affirming as can be found on this flawless record, is something to cherish. Always looking forward, always moving on - and thank goodness for that.

Allo Darlin play The Maze in Nottingham on 19th November, as part of a UK tour. 'We Come from the Same Place' is out on 6th October.


Monday, 15 September 2014

The Debutantes - S/T ep (Soft Power)

Oh, the pop music, the pop music these people make. The Debutantes are Leon and Sarah and Paula from September Girls, and this is their perfect debut.

Whereas September Girls are all dark menace, The Debutantes are at the more blissed-out end of fuzzy, scuzzy pop. Opener, 'Burn the merchandise' revels in its prime-time pop-chime of Jesus and Mary Chain, whilst also hinting at Frankie Rose. The Be My Baby (there must be a more technical term than this) drums only add to the lengthening of the summer as the leaves fall.

'Gentleman's wash' is all new-wave atmospherics, with all feel of 'Japanese Whispers'-era Cure in there, and it's pretty much the jewel in the crown here. It's all fruitless yearning, like most of the best pop songs, and is followed up by the equally sensitive 'Kids', which is just gorgeous, like a freshly made bed with a bottle of wine under each pillow.

'X&Y' is both vital and meek and a rallying cry, and a sob into a pillow. It kicks out every remaining jam, and then comes back for seconds, whilst closer 'Adam's apple' is as near to September Girls as get through five fresh as a daisy tracks.

It's a treat to listen to a new band be clever with pop music. There's a subtlety at work here which is often lost in the eagerness to get your music out 

Now, if only Soft Power would stop releasing these things on cassette, which I have no way of playing. Still, you can get yours from 11th October, listen here, and watch here:


Gentlemans Wash from Leon Butler on Vimeo.




Saturday, 30 August 2014

Show offs

I've got four gig promotions coming up before Christmas, and I'm kind of thinking of calling it a day after that (although I've said this before and never stuck to it). But it'll be a great way to go out, because...

On 4th October, of course, is our all-dayer. There are only about forty tickets left for this now, and if they go there won't be any walk-ups, so you best spend your wages whilst you still have them.

After that, it's Withered Hand with The Sweet Nothings at The Maze in Nottingham on 15th October. Withered Hand's new album 'New Gods' is a thing of complete wonder, and you'd be a complete idiot to miss this. Tickets are available here.

Into November, and at The Chameleon, we have Dignan Porch, Witching Waves, Eureka California and (hopefully) one very special guest. No tickets for this one - just be there early on Saturday 15th.

A few days later on 19th at The Maze again, it's Allo Darlin', Making Marks and Seabirds at The Maze. If this is where I exit stage left, then it'll be great to go out listening to my favourite band of the last four years. Do join me and get your tickets here.

I've spent the last week listening to the Allo Darlin' album constantly all week, and I'm deeply in love with it (review to come soon).

If anyone can get Alvvays over to the UK, thenm I'll change my mind instantly about putting on gigs. As it is, these four will do just fine. See you at the all-dayer!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Indietracks 2014: Permanent revolution and the smashing of the Del Amitri ghetto

The Hobbes Flanclub's Leon, who was packing adult emergency poncho heat all weekend
Indietracks is dead, long live Indietracks. After much huffing and puffing by Various Quarters of Indiepop, this year's festival not only lived up to its predecessors - it probably surpassed it.

Imaging being caught in the indiepop ghetto (or, as it's otherwise known 1988), when everyone (and by everyone, it was nearly always men with quiffs that were just on the right side of damped down so they could go to their office job every day without any hassle) wore their gentle plaid shirts tucked into their 501s and played listless melancholia about a girl named Cathy from Carlisle who doesn't want to roll about in a meadow with you any more. There are probably denim jackets involved, and record sleeves that so desperately want to be Smiths records, that not even Smiths fans clinging onto the distant past buy them. That's what happened back then. I was there. Indiepop was dead (only to be revived briefly by a couple of urchins from Bristol and a set of bands that saw that sounding like a slightly left-of-centre Del Amitri really wasn't doing anyone any favours).

And so in 2014, Indietracks sort of reinvented itself and took chances with the line-up - and it worked. For every person wondering why Gruff Rhys was playing (and I'm no fan, but he was deadly entertaining), there were many more who were probably discovering Slum of Legs, Joanna Gruesome, Thee Ahs, The Hobbes Fanclub or The Royal Landscaping Society for the first time. Isn't that better than our tiny little scene building a Berlin Wall around itself and patting ourselves on the back for being as pure as the driven snow? I'd much rather persuade a Super Furry Animals fan to love The Blue Minkies than the other way around, for example.

Onwards.

Friday night is a complete triumph, and one of my favourite ever times at Indietracks. We see tonieee and Jo at the head of the road down to Swanwick and catch up about kids, life, holidays, and which bands we're looking forward to seeing. And then friends and acquaintances arrive and you get that Indietracks feeling all over again, and just let the weekend wash over you like a comfort blanket.

I'd not seen Spearmint since the early 2000s in a sweatpit of a venue in London, but they've lost none of the sparkle that makes them instant pop stars, mixing old and new and finishing with an obvious, but completely triumphant 'Sweeping the nation'. They've not lost it.

Allo Darlin' somehow continue to rise and rise and as the sun goes down and Elizabeth plays 'Tallulah' you realise that they'll be difficult to beat this weekend, and so it proves.

Saturday is roasting hot, and I'm lost in a haze of a delightful gallon of bitter called American Girl, which is ridiculously easy to drink and makes me lose all feeling from my knees down.

The Royal Landscaping Society overcome early sound problems to claim the hearts of the crowd with their Wake-meets-Brighter sadpop, and it's all quite wonderful.

It's sweaty everywhere, but nowhere more than on stage with MJ Hibbett and the Validators who pull out a performance from the vaults to completely charm the really-quite-large crowd. The new songs sound great, and the band seem genuinely chuffed with the reception, and that's always lovely.

Joanna Gruesome, despite a stop/start performance (sound problems again), distil more energy into half an hour than most bands manage in a lifetime, and then go all coy when Dean Wareham joins them onstage for 'Tugboat'. They're as thrilling as ever, and that almost goes without saying these days.

By this time, I'm resembling something approaching red cabbage, and so it is with a heavy heart that I give Slum of Legs a miss in the church, and simply settle down on the grass and... wait for the sun to go down.

First on the main stage on Sunday are Axolotes Mexicanos, an Elefant band who I've never heard of, and who I desperately want to hear more of. A hyperactive singer being translated by a deadpan band member and a fantastic line of fizzy, abrasive indiepop later, and I'm fully pepped, and head into the shed, where No Ditching are again impressive, before Hobbes Fanclub show up and play those perfect songs from their new album in such an exciting manner that I forget how hot it is and actually start to dance. I apologise now for anyone who saw this.

One ace set from Night Flowers later, and my Indietracks is done. It's work tomorrow, and there's a four year old to put to bed. He cries when he's told we're going too.

I was told by an organiser that 200 more tickets were sold for this year's Indietracks than last year's. If Indietracks really wanted to "sell-out" (and I mean that in both senses of the word), then I'm sure it could and the people that benefit from the money it raises would be eternally grateful. The fact that they don't is testament to a group of people who say more to me about my life than sniffy purists. Ultra-leftism (in indiepop terms) is all well and good if you can afford to go to more than one of these events each year, but it won't lead us to any kind of Glorious Revolution, and as my dear friend Lenin said, is awfully infantile. Indietracks probably won't get us there either, but we'll have a lot of fun trying.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Slum of Legs - Begin to Dissolve (Tuff Enuff Records)

Welcome to futures and pasts. If Slum of Legs aren't the best band in the UK by the end of the year, there'll be something not quite right. They take the past 25 year of underground pop music and squeeze it out of tiny, tinny speakers. This single is magnificent, let's make no mistake.

The stars of Indietracks (I missed them due to being too hot - ROCK 'N' ROLL), Slum of Legs make the kind of tense, taut glam racket that Prolapse used to specialise in around the same time as Quickspace, and which the dear-departed Shrag excelled in until their demise last year.

There are violins and crunchy synths, mad wig-outs, scenes of genuine emotion (most notably on the superior b-side 'Razorblade the Tape') and a kind of lonesome defiance that is so missing from much of the pop underground right now. Slum of Legs might just give you some hope for the future if you let them.

Meanwhile, and as an aside of some great importance, Tuff Enuff Records is on a run of hits so potent that you'll have to try hard not to become infected.

Do not miss the chance to save yourselves.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Hobbes Fanclub - Up at Lagrange (Shelflife Records)

Right on cue, in the week before Indietracks, The Hobbes Fanclub, have melted my heart.

Indulge me for a few moments. At the back end of 1990, the week before all my friends who'd stayed on for 6th form went back to school to further their accountancy careers, I started a job as an apprentice plumber and pipefitter on an oil refinery in North Lincolnshire. This was exactly the sort of thing that I wanted to do; to get out of the stolid air of Grammar school and around Real People again.

The money I earned (£1.50 an hour, which came to £57.25 for a 40 hour week after National Insurance was deducted) opened up a whole new world of music to me. Sure, I'd bought records before with summer jobs, but that money ran out very quickly. Now, I was earning. I spent most of the next two years hoovering up records from the likes of Pale Saints, Ride, Slowdive, Field Mice, Boo Radleys... that sort of thing. I look back on this period, rather daftly, as "my time". We never thought we'd have a time back then, of course; our "time" was going to last forever.

And it did and it doesn't and didn't and it does.

The Hobbes Fanclub may or may not have been listening to exactly the same records as me at exactly the same time. I think Leon is a day older than me, which is REALLY FUCKING WEIRD, especially when listening to Up at Lagrange and hearing its influences.

'Your doubting heart' and 'Outside Yourself' might have been re-recorded, but they make up two halves of the perfect single, and sit so beautifully on this album that the rest sounds like a singles compilation. 

'I Knew You'd Understand' is the Pale Saints at their most perky and winsome, and is both charming and yearning. It rattles along but lingers long enough to be caught and hugged. 

'Run into the sea' is The Hobbes Fanclub's take on Jesus and Mary Chain, and it's sight better than that band has managed for 25 years.

And then there are the modern shoegaze classics such as 'Why should you tell the truth?' and the crushing, closing duo of the title track, which has early Boo Radleys written through out like Cleethorpes rock, and 'Sometimes', which wouldn't sound out of place on one of the first four classic Ride eps.

I'm referencing these bands partly because I'm desperately lazy, but also because this album brings back a million feelings and memories - and it does it almost effortlessly. It's a classic album, and it'll be seen like that (by me) for years to come. I might even grow that pillarbox red bob back.

In short: this is the sort of record I'd have obsessed over when I was 16, just as much as I'm obsessing over it right now. A masterpiece from start to finish.
The Hobbes Fanclub forever.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Indietracks compilation - the 55 varieties

It's that time of year again, when we all get to listen to those bands playing Indietracks who we've never heard of. Or maybe that's just me not being cool enough, and perhaps this time next month I'll be having a Lonely Tourist tattoo on both inner thighs.

There are 55 tracks here. It's almost a prog rock album. Of course it's not, and it's criminally cheap to download, so why don't you go and do that. Let me tell you now that it's worth it alone for the storming new Hobbes Fanclub track 'Why should you tell the truth?'. If this is a teaser for the album, then we're all in for a treat.

I've got about a year's work to fit in between now and Indietracks, and in the meantime there's this. Please do come along if you at all can.