Sunday, 29 December 2013

Albums of 2013: Gruesome times

Things like working 60 hours a week for 50 weeks of the year have totally messed up me listening to to many albums this year. Singles are, of course, the instant hit - the sort of disposable yet utterly timeless format that pop music was made for.

Try listening to an album properly when you have a million boring business stories to write and a four year old tugging at your leg demanding a game of football. I realise now, this is why my Dad only made it as far as Barbara Streisand...

Despite that, there have been some outstanding albums this year. I am forever sorry that I've still not managed to listen to the Pete Green or Spook School albums properly yet. It's really not good enough, but these are the long-players that buttered my toast in 2013.

Tunabunny - Genius Fatigue (Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records)
Was this out in 2013? I think so. Either way, it's another masterpiece from the prolific pop geniuses.
Perhaps once every ten years or so a pop band from the American underground comes through and captures what it means to be living in a certain time and a certain place. They also capture what it's like to be young(ish) and in a band and alive. Think Pixies, All Girl Summer Fun Band, Dressy Bessy... and others I've undoubtedly forgotten to mention. Tunabunny are as important to me as all these bands, with this album they're destined to delve their way into even more hearts.

Milky Wimpshake - Heart and Soul in the Milky Way (Fortuna Pop!)
Another Wimpshake album - another instant hit.
'Heart and Soul in the Milky Way' simply reaffirms Milky Wimpshake as leaders of the pop underground - 20 years after they first surfaced.

The Felt Tips - Symbolic Violence (Firestation Records)
Excellent second album from Scotland's finest jangle-poppers.
Most of what made 'Living and Growing' so special is still all here to lose yourself in; the unanswered questions of 'Teenage Bully', the comfort of nostalgia and the thrill of near-violence in 'The Heat of the Summer', or the seedy skiffle of 'Whipped Off'.

Joanna Gruesome - Weird Sister (Fortuna Pop!)
Find me a better debut album and I'll love you forever.
Let's get this straight; you don't just want to listen to this album - you need to. It's as simple as that. It's one of those albums that, when you get old, you'll be able to go back to time and time again. It's the sort of record you'll want to play to everyone who comes around to your house. It's the LP that'll be on your turntable now, tomorrow, next week, and in 25 years' time. You know what to do.

Mascot Fight - Abscond and Hey Presto! (Cassette County)
Ignored, but still mighty defiant, Mascot Fight's second album keeps the East Midlands' pop heart beating.
I don't want to get all regionalist on your arsehole, but I can't help but think that if Mascot Fight were from London or somewhere glamorous and vogue-ish like Stockholm, then more people would have heard of them by now. But, Derby it is, and Derby it will stay. Let's just hope that the majesty of this album manages to break out of the East Midlands gulag into the wider world.

Math and Physics Club - Our Hearts Beat Out Loud (Matinee Recordings)
Wonderful re-birth of a band we should all keep close.
Eighteen months ago, Math and Physics Club were on their backsides, with annoying real life getting in the way of more important stuff like making music. One trip to Europe and a stunning third album later and they sound in their best ever form.

Various - Nobody's Business (Candy Twist Records)
Our compilation of our bands for our times.
'Nobody's Business' is a fantastic snapshot of underground pop music at its height. Whilst some may look back at the mid-late 80s as a time when indiepop reached its zenith, history will one day show us that, as those old fuddy-duddies in Airport Girl once sort of  said, these times are good times.

Northern Portrait - Ta! (Matinee Recordings)
Handily-packaged compilation of rare tracks that kept me sane in the run-up to Christmas.
OH! But they sound like The Smiths, don't they? Yeah, and this is their 'Hatful of Hollow'...

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Singles of 2013: The year of The Fireworks

Ah, the end-of-year list. Loved by some, reviled by many and completely ignored by most, they are the inventories of people who usually think they're far more interesting than they actually are. And so, of course I'll going to regale you with mine. Why else have a blog about music, if you didn't think people cared about what you think, after all?...

Coming in the dead zone between Christmas and New Year will be my favourite albums, but let's start with the best singles of 2013.

Shrag - On the Spines of Old Cathedrals (Fortuna Pop!)
Funny to think that none of us knew that Shrag had made their last record this time last year. But, they finished by releasing probably the best song they'd ever written as a download-only single right at the start of the year.
"This song has just about everything; and just shows how versatile Shrag can be. And, yeah, of course it sounds like New Order a bit but that's no bad thing."

Northern Portrait - Pretty Decent Swimmers (Matinee Recordings)
Northern Portrait book-ended the year rather nicely, with an ep at the beginning, and an album at the end...
"It seems like an age since Northern Portrait swaggered on by and stole our hearts, but none of that matters any more, because they're back with a single that isn't so much confident as downright cocky. You better watch out, because 'Pretty Decent Swimmers' is as likely to snog your heart right the back of the bikesheds as much as steal it."

The Fireworks - The Fireworks ep (Shelflife)
Two classic singles this year, and they've not really got started yet. This was the first.
"We need more of this urgent kind of pop music in our lives. We need more songs that end with the sound of cats scrapping. We need more of The Fireworks."

Just Handshakes - London Bound (Bleeding Gold)
A criminally ignored album this year was preceded by this download-only single.
"It's joyous, to be honest - the sort of song you want to be listening to as your train speeds through the countryside towards the one you love, or the night out you've been looking forward to for weeks. It's Just Handshakes coming of age."

Old Lacy Bed - Little Girl (Dufflecoat Records)
Dreamy, darker pop music - and another prime find from Dufflecoat
"It fair rattles along in a discordant, impatient shuffle with plaintive, world-weary vocals, and some instantly huggable 'ba-ba-bahs' thrown in. Rocket science it isn't, but it's the sort of dark pop music that, with all its coy pleasures, warrants instant attention and further discovery. You'd be hard pressed to resist."

September Girls - Talking (Art for Blind)
It seems September Girls are about to take off into another stratosphere. This single is the sound of them lifting off.
"'Talking' is short, swirling and sinister - the sound of a band approaching the top of their game."

Ancient Times - Nightschool (Soft Power Records)
Part of a split single, and one of most swoonsome songs I've heard in years.
"Ancient Times, it seems, is just one person, but he/they make a mesmerising sound that whilst firmly entrenched in back bedroom melancholia, is also chock-full of hope and optimism and fight - like all the best pop music. Sure, the vocals sound like Morrissey, but you're not going to hear any complaints about that from me."

Lost Tapes - Lost Tapes ep (Eardrums Pop)
Eardrums Pop continue their wholesale education of music lovers with this beguiling debut ep from Lost Tapes.
"Lost Tapes, from that Spain, take the best of late 80s/early 90s guitar pop and mix it with a very modern take on how great records should sound. Opener 'War in the Netherlands' buzzes along much in the manner of The Hobbes Fanclub, whilst 'By You' wallows in the glamour of shadowy effects pedals and a gorgeously hazy vocal that brings back some of Primal Scream's earlier, better moments."

Math and Physics Club - Long Drag (Matinee Recordings)
Back and bolder than ever. Math and Physics Club just get better.
"Math and Physics Club who continue to lead the way in perfect pop with the hand-clap laden 'Long Drag' . Recorded at the Dub Narcotic studios, 'Long Drag' sees Math and Physics Club in a confident, almost sassy mood."

Week of Wonders - Piggybacks (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
Ex-Orca Team types release a classic debut single.
"Week of Wonders' debut single 'Piggbacks' is bullet of refreshment during the stifling heat of the weekend. It's an instant hit of sunshine pop."

Band à Part - Franny Y Tú (Elefant)
As the Autumn kicked in, so did Band à Part to banish the post-Indietracks blues.
"As summer fades into Autumn, it's songs like this that make the absence of those longer days a little more bearable. Close the curtains, eat some chocolate and put this on your record player and life will still be sweet."

Seabirds - Real Tears (Matinee Recordings)
Nottingham's best band for... oooh... 20 years release a debut so exciting that I got a bit carried away.
"'Real Tears' is a storming debut; a dark tale of love, the certainty of death and loss set in the north of England. Like the best Guild League songs, it takes in numerous locations, and has a middle bit that borders on the funky. It's like Tindersticks after they've won the lottery, like The Lucksmiths had they grown up in a decaying British industrial city rather than the scorched south of Australia."

The Occasional Flickers - Capitalism Begins at Home (Cloudberry)
A lovely slice of vitriol from the Greek/Scottish comrades
"We often bemoan the lack of political pop music being made in these terrible times, but The Occasional Flickers have chipped in with a minor classic of the genre. Okay so it might not stop the carnage currently sweeping the majority of people asunder, but whilst songs like this are being made, hope remains. File under: defiant."

The Fireworks - Runaround (Shelflife)
Single of the Year. Any year.
"'Runaround' is all pep and heartache and foot-to-the-floor pop. It sounds like the Shangri-Las after eight pints of Harvest Pale. It makes me want to go and do something that might lose me my job. It's probably the best single I've heard this year."

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Northern Portrait - Ta! (Matinee Recordings)

OH! But they sound like The Smiths, don't they? Yeah, and this is their 'Hatful of Hollow'...

Those good folk at Northern Portrait have seen fit to put all their b-sides and hard-to-find a-sides together on one tremulous, tremendous package, that, if it were released as a standalone record of new music, would pretty much wipe the floor with just about everything else released this year.

If you can't remember where you were when you first heard the smart stomp of 'A Quiet Night in Copenhagen' or the sparkling serenity of 'I Feel Much Better' or the dark defiance of 'In an Empty Hotel' then you're missing out.

'Ta!' is the sound of the last six years of indiepop for me. So many memories are wrapped up in these glorious songs, from hearing those first two dynamite eps to wailing along to Northern Portrait when the played the indoor stage at Indietracks, and cuddling up against the cold on the settee with the stereo on full blast, to teaching my little boy the words to the magnificent 'Fallen Aristocracy'. It's all pretty special.

One hopes that the title of this compilation isn't some kind of farewell - a recognition that it's all over. It's been increasingly hard for the band to get together and play anywhere at all these last couple of years. There's talk of a second album next year, which fill my heart with joy, but it's about time they graced a nearby stage again.

Oh, and can we just forget about the cover of Cliff Richard's 'Some People' on here, please. Ta.

Buy this record here, or forever listen to people saying Northern Portrait sound like The Smiths.

Monday, 9 December 2013

September Girls - Cursing the Sea (Fortuna Pop!)

One of my favourite Indietracks memories is seeing September Girls stroll around Indietracks 2012, looking like a proper band, and looking like a group of people out to enjoy being in pop band, and whatever that might bring (in the case of the Nottingham gig we put on for them two days before, it was half a bottle of Pinot Grigio).

That all seems quite a while ago, and, as September Girls get ready to release this, their debut album, then it might be that they're about to leave nights sharing a Travelodge room behind. They've just supported up-and-comers PINS on a short UK tour, and this record has more than enough to see the band float off onto another plane altogether.

The early September Girls recordings are blessed with a rough around the edges vigour that it was hard not to fall for, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that they'd iron all that out on their debut Fortuna Pop! release. And, in some cases they have. 'Someone New' is a clean-as-whistle pop songs, complete with 'yeah, yeah, yeahs', but it's pleasing to see that for every chart-bound puppy, there's some proper dark stuff on here, and it's right at the start of the album.

The title track might start off all sweetness and light, but just as it's about to skip through the cornfields with you, it goes all mean and moody and steals your picnic. Then there's 'Another Love Song', full of wailing organs and thumping, almost tribal, drums. Or, if you really want to get spooked, try 'Left Behind', a modern gothpop (that's right) classic which sounds like it should be the soundtrack to the best nightmare you've ever had.

In between these is the brittle hit single, 'Green Eyed, which sits at the middle of the 'Cursing the Sea', and, like every perfect pop song should, holds the entire album together. Oh, and then along comes 'Ships' with its 'April Skies' intro and very nearly steals its crown, with its crushing, cruising chorus. Play loud.

Influences here are fairly obvious; to me it's Shangri-Las, Jesus and Mary Chain, Joy Division early Lush and Curve. September Girls will probably tell you something different altogether, but let's not fall out about all that, because 'Cursing the Sea' is mighty impressive in its own right.

'Cursing the Sea is out on Fortuna Pop! on 6th January. You may as well cancel Christmas now and just look forward to that instead.

Monday, 25 November 2013

weePop!: 2017-1014

You may well have heard by now that weePOP!, the label renowned for putting our lovingly-packaged three-inch CD albums and singles, is about to close. Sad times.

But before it all stops for good, Camila, who runs the label, is going to release 3 more records - one by Let's Whisper, one by One Happy Island and one by Colin Clary; and they're doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to help that happen. It ends this Wednesday, and they've already reached their target, but there's nothing stopping you adding a few more quid, is there?...

In light of weePOP!'s passing, I spoke to Camila about the label and the three final releases.

So, why are you ending weePOP!

There isn’t one reason in particular. It just felt like the right time to do it.

Rewind: why and how did you start weePOP? Was there a definite ethos behind it?

I started the label with my friend Thorsten back in 2007. It was a particularly vibrant and exciting time for Indiepop in the UK, there were gigs happening pretty much every much every week and new bands, new promoters, new zines and new labels popping out of everywhere. With so much great music and energy going about, it was hard not to want to get involved and do something as well. The idea for the label came about at an Apples in Stereo show, while waiting for the band to come onstage. Less than 2 months later, we had our first release!

The DIY ethos was always there. In the same way that a lot of the music we were into was being made in people’s bedrooms, we hoped we wouldn’t need a huge operation to make something others would like too.

And we wanted it to look and feel personal as well. From our very first release, the packaging has been highly handmade and we were pretty particular about the fact of it being limited and numbered; but  then some other aspects that ended up becoming part of the ‘weePOP signature’(like the little brown envelopes) just naturally happened over time.

What has been your favourite release?

Ahh, that’s a question I could never answer, it’s like being asked to pick one of your children. Every release was special in their own way, and we’re proud of every single one.

Five, the double LP covers compilation we did for our 5th anniversary was a particularly fun project to work on. The whole thing is made up of weePOP bands covering songs previously released on the label, so we got to be in touch with most bands we had worked with, all at the same time. It was great fun, and it couldn’t have been happier with now it turned up.

And your best memory?

Oh, there are so many good memories – sitting on the floor at the Bush Hall at that Apples in Stereo gig (when we decided to start the label); going down to Cambridge to the see The Roadside Poppies (the first band on the label) play; our 1st year anniversary gig, in fact, there are a LOT of great memories from a lot of shows!

I could give you a really, really long list here.. but I guess what we will always hold dearest is all awesome people we met, and might not have done if it wasn’t for weePOP..

How hard is it to finance putting records out now?

Most of our releases were very small runs on 3” CDs, which don’t require a big investment and is a very easy way to get music out in the world; but vinyl is a different story.

It’s not cheap to produce, postage always works out expensive, not everyone has a record player and you lose some sales because of that; so it needs a bit more planning; but it’s definitely feasible, and worth it - nothing beats the feeling of putting a record you already know so well on the record player for the first time!

Were you wary of Kickstarter before you decided to go down that route for these final releases?

I wouldn’t say ‘wary’, but we did explore a few options.

Because all 3 final records were to be released on vinyl, and with very close release dates, it would have been very difficult to finance them without some sort of pre-order system.

I had used kickstarter as a backer before and I like the way it works, so in the end, it did seem like the route to take.

What are you going to be doing next? Will there be another label in the future?

I have no plans of starting another label right now, but we never know what the future holds. I think (and hope) I’ll always be involved in DIY projects in one way or another.

I started a mail order & distro for independent comics with a friend earlier this year, and that has been great fun as well. For those into indie comics as well as indie music, it can be found at www.impossiblebooks.com.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Math and Physics Club: Indietracks and Allo Darlin saved our lives

What more do you need to know about the majesty of Math and Physics Club that you can't find on their wonderful new album 'Our Hearts Beat Out Loud'?

Over the space of ten songs, Math and Physics Club have managed to work me up into such a lather that I've pretty much assigned all other records released this year to the bin. The standard MAPC sound is here in the world-weary 'Tied to a Stone', but there are further signs that the band are willing to soak up influences old and new in the shape of the excellent single 'Long Drag' and 'We Won't Keep Secrets'.

Meanwhile, 'We Won't Run from Anyone' isn't the paean to football hooliganism you might think it would be from these big, bad bruisers, but three and half moments of the sweetest reverie, with - gasp - and hint of country in there.

Such is the confidence coursing through this band, that they don't flinch from calling a song 'I Know It's Over', and then rip-off the harmonica solo from a Housemartins track, whilst 'Thank God I Met You' is a sweet folk/bluegrass number, set around the strength one person can bring.

But it's probably 'That's What Love Is' that really hits the spot. A pretty straightforward pop song has a lot going for it, in my opinion, and this is one of the best. Hope, despair, love, hate - it's all in here and drives 'Our Hearts Beat Out Loud' to new heights.

Eighteen months ago, Math and Physics Club were on their backsides, with annoying real life getting in the way of more important stuff like making music. One trip to Europe and a stunning third album later and they sound in their best ever form. If they ever threaten to quit again, I'm moving them all into my garden shed until they agree to carry on. Think on, Math and Physics Club, think on...

You can buy 'Our Hearts Beat Out Loud', which is out on Matinee now.
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Charles, James and Ethan agreed to do an interview around the new album and all things MAPC. Here's what they had to say...

Tell me about the new album - how did it come about? And what are the big themes?

Ethan: I think the album is about love. Anything worth doing is going to be about love, really. I dunno what do you guys think?

James:  I don't think any of us would mind leaving things open wide to listeners own thematic interpretations.  For me, this album is significant in that we were even able to make it. We'll all now pushing into our 40s and life is a lot more complicated than when we started out as a band in 2004. MAPC is a pretty special thing for all of us and the pure joy we get from making music together keeps it all alive.

Charles: [wipes away tear]

James: Don’t cry, brother.  Here’s a tissue.

You very nearly split a couple of years ago, didn't you? What made you change your mind?

Ethan: We all have our busy and full outside lives, but this really beautiful thing happens when we all get together that just doesn't exist outside of the band.  It's like spending summers up on indie-pop Brokeback. I wish I could quit you guys. 

James: Its totally true.  After almost 10 years of playing together, we've totally gone Brokeback.  Just don't tell my wife.

Charles: Hmmm…

Ethan: In between our first and second albums, Charles had twins, James had a daughter and built a house, Kevin had a daughter and his career as writer started to take off so he left the band to concentrate on that.  Saundrah left the band. Things started to look pretty bleak for our future. We thought ‘I Shouldn't Look As Good As I Do’ would be our last chance, so we wanted to make a shiny pop album while we could. We talked Kevin back to record, but the process was more fun for some of us than others for various reasons. That could have been the end, but we'd always wanted to play in the UK. So that was a light to the future.

After that album came out I toured the west coast, the UK and the Continent with Eux Autres, I was listening to a lot of Donovan, especially his album Open Road. I love the live, spontaneous sound of that record and I started thinking about how I wished MAPC could do something like that. And then, at the end of the tour, I was standing in the security line at Heathrow waiting to fly home, and there was Donovan!  He was walked past all by himself, so I said 'Hey Donovan!' And he stopped and spun around, looked at me and said in a very kind and calm way, just the way you'd imagine, 'Hello.' And he stopped and talked to me for a couple of minutes. He was so kind and thoughtful, and asked me questions too, and was very encouraging about making music. It was like a visitation and so I had this epiphany. I knew then we had to do it. That's how it happened from my perspective. Of course the album doesn't sound much like Open Road in the end but that was a major inspiration for me.

Anyway, a few months later, we in Math and Physics Club had so much fun playing in the UK that we came back energized, and new ideas began to germinate.

Charles: I remember sitting in Kevin’s backyard and talking about whether we should play a proper final show or not. It was that close to happening. For me it was two things that really changed my outlook: One was the UK tour and Indietracks. Getting that type of response from people so far away from home, it was just really meaningful. The other was hearing ‘Capricornia’ by Allo Darlin’ when it came out. It just sounded so brilliant, and the first thing I did was pick up my guitar and try to write a song, which as a songwriter is about as high of a compliment as I can give. It was both a spark and a challenge, I guess. All of the sudden I was writing songs in flurries again and we started talking about recording another full length, which I never expected to happen after the last one.

Talk me through the evolution of the band - how have you changed over the last decade, and what is the main difference between the three albums?

James:  Musical virtuosity has never really been a skill either Charles or I have claimed to possess. If pressed, we probably couldn't name the notes or chords we're playing most of the time! We both just go by ear a lot.   Ethan and Kevin are much more accomplished musicians and have brought a lot of that understanding of proper music theory to our recording sessions over the years. This time around we did make a conscious decision to go in and try to capture the stripped down sound of us just picking up instruments and playing live in a room together without all the digital gadgetry in the middle mucking stuff up.   That approach felt really comfortable. It brought us back full circle to our very first basement recording efforts.

Ethan: The first album is our sound at that time, but a little smoother thanks to the superb production and engineering by Kevin Suggs.  Kevin does the live in-studio sound for KEXP, our local listener-supported radio station, and we'd worked with him before.  We were still very green, and listening back to it now, I hear a sort of bashfulness that was very natural and genuine at the time.  There are very few tricks on that album. We recorded it at Avast in Seattle with their big API board and a lot of room mics. For our second album we wanted to make something shinier and bigger sounding, and Martin Feveyear did just what we asked him to do. It's a great big sounding album, thanks to his SSL board, close mic'ing and a focus on getting just the right take and feel.  It's very professional sounding, but in the process I think we went a few steps too far away from our core sound. That wasn't Martin's fault though. He gets great sounds, and really worked on our performances with us. And he's hilarious.  For this album, we had the confidence to take more control - something we haven't really done since our early EPs. We played a show in Olympia with Mark Monnone and the Smittens and the guy who did the sound was Bob Schwenkler, who turned out also to run the studio at Dub Narcotic.  We talked with him about it, and suddenly this dream of recording at Dub Narcotic seemed within reach.  Bob has a great presence in the studio - calm, confident, encouraging. Very centered.  We recorded this album to 16 track 2" tape. The Electrodyne console at Dub Narcotic is almost identical to the console made for Frank Sinatra's personal studio, and it happens to be hooked up to the same type of tape machine as his was, and I think that really gave our album a little extra ring-a-ding-ding.

Charles: Pretty sure that’s why my vocals came out ‘mmmmm...’ all the way.

How was recording in the Dub Narcotic studio? Does it have an "aura"? Did that affect you?

Ethan:  It was definitely a big deal to us to record there, but it's only been in this location for a few years.  It's not like we were recording in Calvin's basement, where the studio used to be years ago. It's a very 'Olympia' feeling studio, though, so maybe we're not as attuned to the 'aura' since we all have connections there.  But it's a great place to work, casual but professional. We all felt comfortable there, and I think that came through in the recording. There were always people in and out of the studio, the people from LAKE were around a bit, Karl Blau came through a few times, and of course Calvin Johnson.  Once we were recording a quiet acoustic guitar part, and Bob stopped the take and was like 'wait what's that sound coming through the mic?' and it turned out to be Calvin singing loudly to himself while doing the dishes. Bob had to ask him to keep it down! I kind of thought we should have just kept his voice in there as a little souvenir.  Calvin is the nicest guy though.  Years ago when I worked at Rainy Day Records, it was a Sunday morning I think, and the store was empty. My co-worker and I took turns spinning 45s from the used bin, and she and I were dancing behind the counter, just goofing around. This went on for like an hour, and then I heard a voice behind me say 'Excuse me...' Scared me to death because I thought the store was empty. And it was Calvin, in to pick up a special order. And he complimented my dance moves! That's one of the greatest compliments I've ever received.  Especially if you've ever seen Calvin dance.

James:  Ethan, I didn't know that!  One thing about Ethan is he’s always good for crazy stories from his multiple past lives. We had a great experience at Dub Narcotic. The building itself is also pretty interesting.  It used to be a Jewish Synagogue for ages until Calvin Johnson bought it several years ago and converted the space into K Records Headquarters. The studio is in the basement which used to be used for community events. There's a beautiful Star of David stained glass window above the front entrance I remember seeing as a kid driving by on the way to the local public library up the street. One of the coolest things about recording at Dub Narcotic was finally getting a chance to take a close up look at that window!

You last toured the UK around 18 months ago - will you be coming back, or is life getting in the way?

Ethan: Of course it's a challenge to get the time and coordinate schedules, but I think we'd all do it in a heartbeat. The challenge is to make the trip pay for itself, or save up the money for long enough that we can take a loss. In the meantime if any bands out there need assistance with record production or touring, I'm probably available! Music is my only job right now, and anyway, if I was already over in the UK it would be easier to get the other guys over.

Charles: I don’t know, are you offering a slot in your annual all-dayer?

YES.

Which new bands are you listening to at the moment? Do you think the "scene" is pretty healthy?

James:  With a couple of little girls scampering around our house, I'm listening to a live stage performance of Mary Poppins and the soundtrack from the Sound of Music pretty much non-stop. Is that healthy? I don't really know.


Ethan:  I like Yakuri Cable and the Seabirds. I want to hear more from those bands. Still waiting for more from Last Leaves, too. I really like the new Azure Blue and Bubblegum Lemonade albums. I've seen some cool indie pop bands from the Phillippines and Indonesia on YouTube too. I always like Lisle Mitnik's projects.  He gets such cool sounds. And when we played at the NYC Popfest this year, we got to meet The Very Most and I've been exploring their catalog. There are tons of great bands around if you keep an open ear.

Charles: Matinee has been on fire this year with a bunch of really cool releases, which is good because without Jimmy keeping me stocked up I’m not sure how much new music I’d hear. I used to be so much more proactive about seeking out music, but I just don’t have a lot of time to do that anymore. But as Ethan said, we were at NYC Popfest this year and the scene felt pretty vibrant to me!

Tell me a secret about Math and Physics Club that no-one knows.

Ethan: We actually will keep secrets!

James:  I will let you in on one little secret. The official tea of the band is Sainsbury's Red Label. It is truly the finest, if not the most underrated, tea on the market today. Perhaps Sainsbury's would be interested in sponsoring our next UK tour?

Charles: C’mon James, what happened to the first rule of Math and Physics Club?

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Various - Nobody's Business (Candy Twist Records)

Remember those Beechwood Indie Top 20 compilations the provincials (like me) used to devour? I often wish those things were around these days to show the world that there's a whole layer of beautiful music being made by people whose sole aim isn't to appear as the soundtrack to a car advert.

Oh, hang on... what's this?

'Nobody's Business' has been compiled by one-man DIY-dynamo Dennis Greeuw, who puts out the excellent Candy Twist fanzine, amongst other things. Over its 12 tracks this album just about covers all that is good in pop music today - right there is one easily-digestible package, just how those kids we hear so much about like it.

It starts with the frankly remarkable Fireworks, whose latest effortless masterpiece is 'I Wish You'd Go'. I've rattled on long enough about The Fireworks on here, but they don't half make the essential sound easy. They're just incredibly cool.

Cave Ghosts relate the glacial pain of 'Mistakes', before The Hobbes Fanclub throw in a prime piece of Sarah jangle with 'Baby It's You'. Liechtenstein come out of the woodwork with the post-punk funk of 'The Map', which also sounds like mid-period Siouxsie and the Banshees, and is therefore (of course) wonderful.

The Felt Tips chuck in a demo version of 'Going Natural' and it tips most other songs release this year into the bin, whilst Lost Tapes' 'All I Miss' is all Field Mice melancholy and shoegaze harmonies and perhaps just about steals the show.

Oh, look, here's Horowitz with the spitting, snarling live favourite 'That's Deceit', which bodes well for their forthcoming album, which, along with the September Girls record, is the one I'm looking forward to most.

Last up is Young Romance, who dispel all fears that they've lost their innate beauty with the drop-dead wonderful 'Twenty-five'. Remember, comrades: just two people make this noise. It's truly remarkable.

'Nobody's Business' is a fantastic snapshot of underground pop music at its height. Whilst some may look back at the mid-late 80s as a time when indiepop reached its zenith, history will one day show us that, as those old fuddy-duddies in Airport Girl once said, these times are good times. Make them yours and someone else's by buying this record.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Charlie Big Time - Sale or Return ep (Jigsaw Records)

Working for yourself means you have this kind of feeling at least three times every single day of the week, ,  but Charlie Big Time's own perfect brand of melancholia is perfect for that pre-Monday feeling; all barley hidden angst, disbelief, and a general world-weariness with smalltown life.

Heck, they pretty much spell this out on the opening track of their excellent new ep, 'Sale or Return'. 'A Sunday Afternoon Well Spent' is all paranoia and self-loathing, with Matt Pendlebury's whispery vocals only adding the sense of claustaphobic sadness. For lovers of, um, Lovejoy, Harper Lee, Pinkie, Brighter... that sorta stuff.

Throughout this record, Charlie Big Time celebrate life's outsiders, or at least being on the outside. The title track carries this theme effortlessly - a kind daydream of perfection that may or may not come true... but probably, knowing their luck, won't.

The song glides effortless into the whispy waltz of 'Pitiful, Delightful and Alarming', which actually dares to hint at life outside the drudge, before 'From the Cradle to the Bar' takes us right back there, via a Prefab Sprout-ish tale of let downs and deceit and divorce from reality.

In our darkest, wildest moments, we'd probably all like to think we can relate to some of the stories told in these songs - and there's some beauty to be find in that, despite the subject matter. Carry on wallowing.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Mascot Fight - Abscond and Hey Presto! (Cassette County)

I'm not entirely sure when I first came across Mascot Fight. My mind seems to skirt across much of the 2000s like a knackered needle on a record, but whereas I can remember distinctly where I was when I first time I heard Derby contemporaries Lardpony, how Mascot Fight came into my life remains a mystery.

Answers on a postcard, please.

I think this is Mascot Fight's second album, but how they're still going remains a mystery. Their first, 'Pantomime Hearse' is a cruelly-ignored classic, and, by now, a mixture of sparsely attended gigs, band members living hundreds of miles apart, and general apathy from a record-buying public who should know better, would have forced a lesser band to hang up their boots. Mascot Fight are better than that, mind...

With all this trouble and strife in mind, then you'd be forgiven for thinking that 'Abscond and Hey Presto!' would be a downbeat, maudlin affair. Oh, well, you'd be right. Take 'Vanuatu', for example, sung by Tom John in his faltering choirboy voice, which might sounds all sweetness and light but has lyrics with real claws and reminds this listener of some of Beulah's more triumphant, yet bittersweet, moments.

Or, what about the follow-up, the nearly-funky, psychedelic 'Played A Hand' (a past single), which might or might not be about wanking, but has the kind of lyrics that paint of picture of admiration from afar which always appeal to me.

Centrepiece of the action is 'Interior Speeches', which is classic Mascot Fight and the sort of jittery paranoid pop that they do pretty much better than anyone else. It's all peaks and then more peaks. And then another peak. They manage to follow this up with the ode to smalltown mentality, 'In the Mouth of the A Dessert', about how certain people seem to thrive on failure, which is saying more to me about my life than 99 per cent of music around at the moment.

'Bucky Balls', sung by Sean in his north-east brogue, tells the dark tale of a wife murdering her husband. It's dark stuff, some of this, but then along comes 'Retconning' and steals the show entirely, again sung by Tom in a deeply world-weary way, as he kills his idols in three and half minutes of the sweetest pop music you'll hear.

I don't want to get all regionalist on your arsehole, but I can't help but think that if Mascot Fight were from London or somewhere glamorous and vogue-ish like Stockholm, then more people would have heard of them by now. But, Derby it is, and Derby it will stay. Let's just hope that the majesty of this album manages to break out of the East Midlands gulag into the wider world.

You can hear the entire album here. But once you've done that, you should really buy it, shouldn't you?


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Fireworks - Runaround (Shelflife)

The outside world is a grey, wet place - but that doesn't matter because I'm sat inside next to the radiator listening to the new Fireworks single.

'Runaround' has very little to do with the quite-weird-if-you-think-about-it-now kids' telly show of the same name, and more to do with being kicked up the arse by three minutes of perfect pop music.

Vital doesn't quite come close. There was someone who commented on here on my post about the first Fireworks single, saying it was derivative. Of course it's derivative - just about all music is. But when music makes the blood zoom around your body that little bit faster, and when your skin goes all tingly, and when you feel - yes - a bit emotional about three minutes of fuzzcore energy, then, really, who gives a fuck?

'Runaround' is all pep and heartache and foot-to-the-floor pop. It sounds like the Shangri-Las after eight pints of Harvest Pale. It makes me want to go and do something that might lose me my job. It's probably the best single I've heard this year.

But what do I know? I'm going back to hug this radiator, and then I best get dressed. You make your own mind up...




Monday, 14 October 2013

September Girls - Heartbeats (Fortuna Pop!)

Oh, you might think that September Girls would lose some of their inherent menace now that they've signed up to one of those proper pop labels. Once again, you're wrong... so very, very wrong.

This single, their debut for pop hit mince machine Fortuna Pop! sees the fivesome veer towards early Lush on the A-side, whilst always keeping a sense of the tribal, with Siouxsie-ish drums and bass. It's the perfect soundtrack to one of those nights in on your own when you're pissed off and have nothing but a cheap box of wine to get you through to the morning. Least that's what I did with it at the weekend, anyway...

Over on the b-side. 'Wasted' turns the reverb up to 11 and wallows in its own dark, dark glory. Mysterious enough to make you strain to try and heard the well-down-in-the-mix vocals, it gives you the impression that it'll explode into some kind of glorious, joyous noise any second. Of course it doesn't, and it's probably all the better for that.

The album can't come soon enough, to be honest. Along with another Nottingham show.


September Girls are playing some dates in England this week. Don't be a div - go and see them somewhere:

15th Oct - Leaf, Liverpool (with PINS)
16th Oct - Bulls Head, Birmingham (with PINS)
17th Oct - Belgrave, Leeds (with PINS)
18th Oct - The Waiting Room, London
19th Oct - Kraak Gallery, Manchester - part of 'A Carefully Planned Festival' - stage time 3pm



Friday, 4 October 2013

Interview: Kitchens of Distinction

Forgive the mild breakdown, but as I steam headlong towards my forties, I'm caught between terrible pangs of nostalgia and the sense that I want to recreate some kind of mythical time and place that existed (Grimsby, 1990-92 - I have very low standards), and looking at what I have now and what I didn't have then and being really fucking thankful that it's now, not then.

A lot of my best friends have moved on from being into music and have accepted family life and all the pleasures that go with that - and, often, I quite admire them. I often get very frustrated with myself for not letting go of pop music - even for a few months - and seeing what life is really like outside of a sparsely populated gig, or fretting about how many people are going to turn up at your next show, or trying to grab an hour from somewhere to actually, y'know, listen to music properly again. Like you did Back Then...

There aren't many bands I return to again and again from Back Then, but Kitchens of Distinction are one of them. This band's first album, 'Love is Hell', is one that I'll always cherish because it said something to me about my life at the time I bought it (a few months after it came out). Its tales of frustration and fighting against your own personal limitations struck a chord with someone who was mired in shyness, and, who, if I'm honest, took himself a little too seriously...

And now I'm talking about myself in the third person. Nothing changes, it seems.



The band's second and third albums 'Strange Free World' and 'Death of Cool' were equally as engrossing, but they never quite caught the time and place of 'Love is Hell'. Still, you can't be too greedy, can you?

Onwards, and the recent rash of reformations from bands has often left me cold; for every thrilling rebirth (The Flatmates), there's been others that appear to be doing the cabaret circuit (oh, I'm far too polite). When news came earlier this year that my beloved Kitchens of Distinction were reforming, I wasn't exactly in raptures. However, from what I've heard of their new album 'Folly' and the reviews that have appeared, I can relax.

This is a long-winded and deeply self-indulgent way of telling you that I sent Patrick from the band some questions, which he was kind enough to answer. Thanks, Patrick.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

How did you resurrect KoD? Who made the first move? And why?

It wasn't intentional. I met up with Julian to write some music, with no particular agenda in mind. Let's see where the music takes us. That music began to transform itself into songs, and as they developed it became clear that it resembled our old selves in some ways. At that point I asked Dan if he'd like to add some percussion/drums - and he did.

When you set out to make the album, did you intentionally try and not replicate what KoD had done before? Or not?

The original idea was to do something largely orchestral with layers of harmony vocals. Imagine Fleet Foxes singing over a Bruckner symphony. As we went along it became clear that this wasn't going to be the case. One song looks back at Kitchens of yore. It was written in an intentionally similar way (I Wish It Would Snow); I wrote a bass chordal riff for Julian to play abstract delayed sounds over. But then that too morphed into something newer. Which we were glad about. I think it shows that we aren't content to repeat old tricks.

What are the big themes on the album, if any?

Love and death. Just like the Woody Allen film. I wanted to write about issues relevant to the ageing man in me - about love after many years of being together; of impending health deterioration; and then of course of final days. Nothing too heavy then. I wish I could write more about the lighter side of life - but I do hope there is at least some comedy within the maudlin mush.

How has putting a record out changed since that last KoD album? Is it easier?

It should be easier but it isn't! In a way I wish it was either digital or CD or Vinyl. The mix of all three makes it more complicated. I'd be happy with just CD - I like the portability and high fidelity of the medium, though having listened to the vinyl test pressing I can see why people like that sound more, where the mid range is pushed a bit harder. mp3s really are a dog's dinner - don't understand them at all.

You've said you won't be playing live - why is this?

Two reasons. Primarily because Julian wont play live. As to why, I think he feels that there is neither the time/space or the reliance of equipment to make the experience an enjoyable one. He also would be too nervous to get on stage I think. I'd be happy to play in the UK, but my work/health situation means travel abroad is out.

The record has received some excellent reviews. Did you expect this?

I've made records throughout the time as Stephenhero, and received all sorts of reviews. You get used to the variety of opinions. To see the praise for this record so far is totally unexpected. It's a lovely thing, but I'm also wary not to let it please me too much. I think it's a good record - but I can tell you what parts I think haven't worked so well and what parts are wonderful. But I do that about all records, so why not ones I'm involved in too?

Will there be another KoD album? Or is it too early to say?

Too early to say. This one has been a major project over two years. Could I do that again? Not sure right now.

What's the thing you missed the most - and least - from being in KoD?

The thing I miss most is playing live, being in a band full-time, and having the energy to jump about on stage having a great time. The thing I miss least is being drunk, being harassed, being broke, and being in a band with, at that time, two mardy fuckers.




Sunday, 29 September 2013

Band à part - Franny Y Tú (Elefant)

There's been a rash of Indietracks-inspired videos over the last few years, and, indeed, if, for example, you've skived off work for the weekend to be at the world's best music festival, then you've got to be a bit careful you don't get caught on a Super 8.

Band à Part were at this year's Indietracks with their recording equipment, and they've made a very cute video to accompany their charming new single. 'Franny Y Tú' twists and turns all over the place, but never remains anything less than the sweetest pop. Musically, it takes a lot from those Siesta bands of yore, but with a little more edge, whilst the international pop underground that were part of the Shelflife milieu in the late 1990s and early 2000s are an obvious influence.

As summer fades into Autumn, it's songs like this that make the absence of those longer days a little more bearable. Close the curtains, eat some chocolate and put this on your record player and life will still be sweet. Oh, and 10p to anyone who can spot themselves here...




Sunday, 22 September 2013

Seabirds - Real Tears (Matinee Recordings)

Oh, to be in at the start of something special.

The genesis of this single seeing the daylight might well have been a semi-drunken conversation in The Dragon pub in Nottingham one late afternoon earlier this year. Ian Evans of pop tigers Horowitz and I were on one of our regular mid-week pub trips during which we get progressively pissed and try and put the world of football, music and politics to rights. We almost certainly talk complete nonsense.

However, this one particular afternoon, Ian let slip that his new band, Seabirds (which he'd formed with the remains of Red Shoe Diaries) had recorded a couple of songs in double quick time. He said he'd email me the demo when he got home, and that the band were looking for label to put the songs out on.

The rough cut of 'Real Tears' was stunning, and I hooked the band up with Jimmy at Matinee. The rest is a mystery...

'Real Tears' is a storming debut; a dark tale of love, the certainty of death and loss set in the north of England. Like the best Guild League songs, it takes in numerous locations, and has a middle bit that borders on the funky. It's like Tindersticks after they've won the lottery, like The Lucksmiths had they grown up in a decaying British industrial city rather than the scorched south of Australia. Its lyrics remind me so much of when I lived on the dole in Nottingham in the mid-90s, and the trials, tiny triumphs and tears that time brought.It's a triumph of five people capturing a moment and time in three minutes, like all the best seven inch singles.

On t'other side 'Oh Buoy', in which Tom whispers a love song to a near perfect-pop backdrop, with Leanne's harmonies and Ian's guitar weaving a beguiling spell. Ian even breaks out a guitar solo at one point, and you can almost imagine Seabirds playing to a couple of thousand people. It's the more instant of the two songs, but there's no hierarchy here - just two songs on one quite glorious debut single.

The lesson of all this? Go to the pub more often, obviously.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Occasional Flickers - Capitalism Begins at Home (Cloudberry Records)

If anyone is best-placed to comment on the vicious by-products of capitalism, then it's Athens-born Giorgos Bouras, who has seen his home city under attack from both the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, and a spineless coalition government who seem intent on encouraging the rise of the far right.

Now based in Edinburgh, Giorgos and his (very) Occasional Flickers have a new single out on Cloudberry which rails, in a most arch way, against consumerism and how it affects us all. It features a heroically shambolic guitar solo that only makes me love the song even more, some of the best scratchy, jangly guitars I've heard for a while, and an organ part which brings back the very best of early Comet Gain.

We often bemoan the lack of political pop music being made in these terrible times, but The Occasional Flickers have chipped in with a minor classic of the genre. Okay so it might not stop the carnage currently sweeping the majority of people asunder, but whilst songs like this are being made, hope remains. File under: defiant.

Oh, the video is ACE...



Saturday, 7 September 2013

Nottingham Pop All-Dayer - 1 week to go

This time next week, I'll be really quite drunk and listening to Fever Dream at the Nottingham Pop All-Dayer. Will you? There really aren't that many tickets left now, and there'll be even less on the door, so make sure you're there to be in with a change of appearing in the Nottingham Post photos of the gig. How can you resist that, eh?



Thursday, 29 August 2013

September Girls go Fortuna Pop!

I know this blog looks like it's rapidly turning into a Fortuna Pop! fanzine, but if Sean Price will insist on snaffling all the best bands, then what's a 39 year old boy to do?

News reached me this afternoon that Dublin's finest, September Girls, have gone and signed to Fortuna Pop! and will release a single in October, then an album in deep, depressing January - which is something ease the pain of spending Christmas with your parents, isn't it?

Aside from all of that, the band are releasing a limited edition tape for Cassette Store Day on 7 September via PINS’ label Haus of Pins, entitled 'Ships'. It's a thing of rare beauty, as you can hear for yourself...

Friday, 23 August 2013

Ancient Times - Nightschool/Hieroglyphic (Soft Power Records)

Ancient Times is a teenager called George Smale. With a name like that you might think he belongs in a terrible insurance brokers' office, but the fact is he's more talented before the age of 20 than most.

This double A-side on the ever-excellent Soft Power displays a quite thrilling talent for writing jangly, vulnerable indiepop music.

'Nightschool' sounds like the sort of song Morrissey should be singing, if he wasn't so bloody awkward; it's all back seats of cars and soaring, sad vocals. Meanwhile, 'Hieroglyphic' is altogether more sparse. Smale's sweet foghorn voice starts off over drums and bass, before the drums kick in, and then the growling guitar. It sounds like something from the first Kitchens of Distinction album, and there really is now higher praise.

There's only 250 of these blighters, so you best get your finger out. See here for more details, and an Ancient Times tour you've probably just missed.




Saturday, 17 August 2013

Joanna Gruesome - Weird Sister (Fortuna POP!)

From the very first moment the scattergun pop of 'Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers' creeps under your skin and grabs you forever, to the last few drops of sprawling lament 'Satan' drains you dry, 'Weird Sister' rules the entire world.

Quite what greatness Joanna Gruesome have created here, I'm not sure they know. It's a mess of noise, dreamy pop, violence, and a whole heap of creativity in just 28 minutes that most bands would be hard pressed to match across a dozen albums.

There are songs here that fans of the band will be familiar with ('Sugarcrush', 'Madison', 'Lemonade Grrrl'), but they've been given a new lease of life after being re-recorded.

'Madison' was a bruising piece of perfect pop before, now it's a monster - all MBV-ish guitars and sneering dual vocals. It's the sort of song that makes you want to stick your coat on, head outside, and sort out what's wrong with the world. If 'Taxi Driver' ever gets remade, with, say, Danny Dyer in the lead role, then 'Madison' would be its theme tune.

Lemonade Grrl heads into the territory where shoegaze meets The Wedding Present, and, again, it's almost like a new song after having more than 50p spent on its recording. It's relentless strumming and pace holds you like nothing else.

But it's probably 'Secret Surprise' that is the most perfect of the ten perfect songs on 'Weird Sister'. By Joanna Gruesome standards, it's almost an epic. It's about four songs in one, with vocalist Alanna McArdle playing two characters in the same play. It's an absolute riot.

The theme continues with 'Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still in Love With Me', which, on the face of it, is a pretty straightforward pop song, with perfect vocals by McArdle, but with a tumult of noise and feedback that gives your goosebumps.

'Candy', meanwhile, is the kindest of homages to Galaxie 500. Those who keep up with these things might have heard or seen Joanna Gruesome's stunning live version of 'Tugboat'. 'Candy' merely emphasises their love of the long-departed heroes.

Just when we think they're going soft, and before this album disappears, here comes 'Graveyard', a vital blast of vitriol that sounds like a little like early Pixies are their most raw. It songs like this that make me want to forget that I'm nearly 40 and can't dance, and go our and pretend to be young again. But I'm a bit tired, so I'll just listen to this album again and have an early night.

Let's get this straight; you don't just want to listen to this album - you need to. It's as simple as that. It's one of those albums that, when you get old, you'll be able to go back to time and time again. It's the sort of record you'll want to play to everyone who comes around to your house. It's the LP that'll be on your turntable now, tomorrow, next week, and in 25 years' time. You know what to do.




Sunday, 4 August 2013

Joanna Gruesome: Give in, but don't give up

It's the Sunday afternoon after Indietracks, and I've just spent the entire day washing a shed (no - really). In London, people are getting stopped, searched and asked to "go back home" simply because of the colour of their skin. Is the UK sleepinwaking into fascism? Sometimes it certainly feels like it.

It's at times like this that we need a shot in the arm, a blast to the head, a kick in the shins. Joanna Gruesome, the mighty Joanna Gruesome, provide it in spades with a new track from their debut album out on 16th September.

'Secret Surprise' is like a bouncing bomb aimed at in the faces of those at the who peddle lies to fit their agenda of stigmatising the poor or weak of mind and body. It's a clarion call for those who find that this spiteful government (and their equally weasel-minded opposition) in the UK goes against every fibre of their being. If the word anthem hadn't been so abused over the years, then I'd call it that too - but I won't.

Frankly, it's an essential 2 minutes and 44 seconds of incendiary pop. It hits the sweet spot somewhere in the clouds between Huggy Bear, Pale Saints, The Make-Up, Ailsers Set, and Le Tigre. The album, when it comes out on Fortuna Pop! and Slumberland is set to change lives. You may as well give in to the inevitable right away.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Indietracks 2013: Every year until we die

It's over for another year, then. We slip back into "normal" life (this really isn't normal) and sit and wonder why every weekend can't be like Indietracks, where you sit with your friends, drinking, and go off to watch another band that'll make your jaw drop open once every three or four songs.

We had another magical year; and I think the Saturday in particular was the best day I've ever had at Indietracks, for a variety of reasons, not least being able to make it back to the hotel to see the exciting bit of What Lies Beneath with Harrison Ford. I'm kidding; Fever Dream were the highlight for me, and I really see no reason at all why they shouldn't be huge. I was watching them with Leon from The Hobbes Fanclub (oh, how I namedrop!), and he mentioned something about wishing he was the same age as the band so that he could throw himself around like that when he was playing with his band. I wish I was the same age as Fever Dream so that I could throw myself around whilst listening to them. Might try it next time I've got the house to myself...

Other great things were: The Lovely Eggs, Fear of Men, Milky Wimpshake, Big Wave, Jerv for looking after that cymbal stand, the bar staff asking where everyone had come from, the staff at Carnival of Food, Leon's adult poncho, Alpaca Sports, Haiku Salut, Tunabunny, Cars Can Be Blue, the very nice staff at Sainsbury's caff, seeing very peaky indiepop comrades in Sainsbury's caff each morning, the fella who danced his way to the front during Finnmark, and generally being so deliriously happy (pissed) that by 8pm on Saturday night I didn't care that it was chucking it down, because all I could see was familiar, happy smiling faces.



Really sad I missed The Fireworks, but I'll see them in six weeks time, so that's something to look forward to.

In truth, Indietracks is our holiday each year; the one time where we can be truly selfish and do what we want for three days. To have that and be surrounded by so many wonderful friends and brilliant bands makes it the best place on earth once a year. Without wanting to get completely mushy, these really are days I'll remember for the rest of my life. Well, perhaps the bits before about 7pm, anyway.

That last train journey back from Swanick to Butterley is where it all really kicks in, and you start to think why life outside of this tiny bubble we've created for ourselves bothers existing, with its cruelty and nastiness and arrogance. Sure, that exists in tiny parts indiepop too for sure, but let's not talk about that.

We got home, we slumped, but we couldn't sleep because our hearts were at Swanwick Junction, and they might always be.

Huge thanks to everyone involved in any way. The last six years and ten Indietracks events have been the best times of my life. Whatever happens next, we'll always have that.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Pre-Indietracks singles round-up


If, like me, you've got to somehow cram a full week's work into three and half days this week, then you'll understand that long reviews of these fantastic singles might have to wait for another day.

However, if you want to know what the best single to be released this year is, then look no further than the mighty Math and Physics Club who continue to lead the way in perfect pop with the hand-clap laden 'Long Drag' (Matinee Recordings). Recorded at the Dub Narcotic studios, 'Long Drag' sees Math and Physics Club in a confident, almost sassy mood. The band has come such a long way since that brittle, beautiful first ep, and it's a wonderful thing to behold. B-side 'Across the Paper' waves hello at the past, with its soft-shuffle, bluegrass-tinged strings and coy vocal. It's a quite wonderful little package of songs, and bodes well for the forthcoming album.

Also out on Matinee this month is a new single by long-lost legends The Steinbecks. Not seen around these parts since the mid-2000, 'At Arkaroo Rock' might have been borne out of the recent fantastic Sugargliders retrospective. This is green, lush introspective pop music with inch perfect guitar phrases, and the usual love of nature that comes through on all Meadows brothers recordings. 'All Desires Known' barely exists, and has an almost mediaeval air about it, whilst 'Cabin Fever' is the most instant song here, and shambling ode to drunken camping trips. We've all been there, sweetheart.

The Very Most were one of several casualties from Manic Pop Records sadly closing down, but their new ep 'Just a Pup' deserves to be heard. The lead track takes from The School quite heavily, with jaunty keyboards and what sounds like a bit of brass in there. There's also the most summery guitar solo you'll ever hear. It's a hit for me.

Flowers continue to wow the smart set in London with their buzzsaw pop and choirgirl vocals. They've so far left me a bit high and dry, but 'Until Your Dead' (Fortuna Pop!) hits the spot alright. It's a righteous, full-on aural assault that never really strays far from pop classic bracket. Over on t'b-side and 'Clover' steals the show for me, being both charming and a little bit brutal.. Now that they're sounding much more than Primitives copyists, maybe it's time they were adored a little more.

I'm off to immerse myself in regional business journalism for the next 72 hours. See you at Indietracks!




Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Ballet - Turn You (Fortuna POP!)

Taken from their wonderful new album "I Blame Society", The Ballet's new single is a perfect little package of synthpop. It's a cute story of a make-believe world in which Greg Goldberg can "turn" anyone he chooses gay.*

This song fair throbs with intent, but is at the same coy and distant, as Goldberg sits in the corner of the nightclub almost consoling himself at how unjust the world is. And he leaves on his on his on his own and goes home and he cries and he has a pie.

B-side 'Time Machine' is another song of yearning and the desire to change someone, but is a delightful, fluffy folly, which has the most addictive keyboard line perhaps ever written.

I can't say I've ever really paid much attention to The Ballet, and more fool me. You should not only buy this excellent single, but also invest time, money, and all your worldly emotion in 'I Blame Society'. Pop music this affecting rarely gets the audience it deserves; make sure you don't miss out.

*someone should make this into a film.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Week of Wonders - Piggybacks (Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records)

Featuring the endlessly fascinating Leif Anders, ex of Orca Team, Week of Wonders' debut single 'Piggbacks' is bullet of refreshment during the stifling heat of the weekend.

Leif's voice is immediately recognisable, but this time he's backed by thrashing drums and a guitar that sounds like it's set to steel drum setting. It's an instant hit of sunshine pop accompanied by the most wonderful, weird video featuring the best cat I've seen in a while. Look at its face!

Last summer was a blast. Orca Team were such a short, sweet celebration, and it's a terrible shame they're no longer with us (anyone who saw their stint in the UK last year couldn't fail to fall in love), but, if Week of Wonders keep this kind of early season form up, they'll surely worm a similar way into our hearts. Forget the 'tropical punk' title - this doesn't deserve to be pigeonholed.





Thursday, 4 July 2013

Nottingham pop all-dayer: One out, one in

It is with a heavy heart that the ace September Girls can no longer play the Nottingham Pop All-Dayer on 14th September. The band are busy recording their debut album, and it seems unfair to make them come all this way to sleep on a Travelodge floor, so we gave them the night off to finishing some things called "overdubs"... whatever that means.

Stand by your beds, though, because Glasgow's mighty Felt Tips have only gone and taken their place. Jump into their grave as quick, would they?

BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS, The Felt Tips are great (as if you didn't know already know that). So, make sure you get your ticket before anyone else does.

The line-up (with one band yet to be added) now reads:

Peru
The Proctors
Fever Dream
Allo Darlin
The Fireworks
Tigercats
The Felt Tips
Seabirds
The Flatmates

w/ Big Pink Cake DJs


Monday, 24 June 2013

Final Indietracks bands announced

You know that when the final Indietracks bands have been announced that you can start dusting down your liver and start properly looking forward to the festival itself. Well, that time is here...

Ten bands have been added to the festival line-up:
The Wake, Kid Canaveral, Another Sunny Day, Emma Kupa of Standard Fare, Bloomer, Pete Green, Enderby’s Room, Owl and Mouse, The Art Club and The Choo Choo Trains. There will also be an indiepop singalong on a steam train, led by Kevin, tonieee and Markie.

Right now, I'm dreaming of waking up on Friday 26th July, getting in the car, and forgetting the world for a few days.

You can still buy tickets for Indietracks by calling the railway direct on 01773 747 674 or visiting www.indietracks.co.uk/tickets.html . And you really should, okay?

Friday, 21 June 2013

Vom Vorton - Dennis

Tom Morton (for it is he) is nothing if not prolific. As well as reforming the mighty Lardpony, the lovely fella is about to release another album under his Vom Vorton pseudonym. Vom, if you didn't know by now, is mildly obsessed with robots and cats... and, it seems, massive heartbreak.

'Dennis' is a cracking little taster for the new album, and features the scrumptious vocals of Jacqui, aka Expendable Friend, who I probably need to hear more of. A happy/sad tale of love lost and that probably being for the best.... according to the new fancy piece. There's a cracking line about seeing the one that got away's name on a fire engine, and well, you can guess the rest.

Perhaps the best of the three tracks here is the fizzy, gliding 'The Note', which reminds me a little of the early 90s Morrissey stuff, but with a few more cute keyboards, and that's no bad thing. The song tells the tale of a doomed meeting at a party, and that thing that some people so where they write the wrong phone number down on a piece of paper, make their excuses and leave. How rude. The song's great.

Another tale of dire romantic luck is 'House of Fire' the dreamlike, almost VUesque drawl which is fair depressing if you read the lyrics, but is a pretty impressive take on the death disc genre, even if that is perhaps unintentionally.

It's all enough to whet your appetite for the new Vom Vorton album, 'Special Equations"', which is coming out on 1st July on House vs Home Records.

Take a listen to these three now, why don't you?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Flatmates: "I wanted to gatecrash the party, change the records and piss in their punch bowl"


'Shimmer' by The Flatmates may well be the first indiepop record I ever bought back when I really didn't know what indiepop was, and was busy buying every Smiths, Cure and Housemartins release I could lay my hands on.

Since then, of course, The Flatmates have attained somewhat mythical status as generals of the Subway Organization - a record label so precious that someone should come along and re-release all of its records so that, for a tiny while, the world might be saved again.

Remarkably, The Flatmates have been plotting and planning to get back together again for the best part of six years... and we sat here without a clue. This summer they play their first gigs in over 20 years, and our Nottingham Pop All-dayer. If you told me back then that this would happen I'd never have believed you and would sat in my room sulking for even longer than usual.

Martin and Rocker from the band were good enough to answer this fanboy's questions.

The big question I suppose is: why the reformation? And how long have you been thinking about it?
   
Rocker: Been planning it for six years; Martin, Sarah and I were of the opinion that the band should have made an album in 1988-9, when instead they fell apart. Martin had some new songs, which he sent me demos of in 2006. I have a studio, so could add drums and keyboards, and the results were good enough to make us think we should get the band back together again - initially with a view to recording the new songs.
   
Martin: It's not as if we really "broke up" in the classic sense. Rocker and Sarah have always been amongst my closest friends, and when friends share musical tastes you often end up making music together. I never stopped writing songs so I wanted to perform and record them. Initially that was going to be with Rocker and Sarah, and Debbie if she was up for it. When Debbie quit in 1989 we carried on with a different singer as Sweet Young Things. The gigs went well, but people asked why we played so many Flatmates "covers". I guess if me and Rocker play gigs at all we either call ourselves The Flatmates or have to drop ALL Flatmates songs!

Did Debbie not want to do it? Does she mind that you are?

Rocker: I spent around a year in 2007-8 trying to convince Deb to come and sing for us, even if just as a studio project, but she didn't want to. As far as I know she doesn't mind - the project was put on hold for 5 years because neither Martin nor I would consider using the Flatmates name unless we had a singer as good as Deb. Then we found Lisa...

Martin: It would have been good to have Deb singing, but we eventually had to admit she wasn't into it. I must have asked at least 6 or 7 singers before we found Lisa. At one stage I was sending demos of our songs to Kim Warnick who was in the Fastbacks. That would have been cool. Not many UK indie bands could qualify to be in a Guns'n'Roses rock family tree [through The Fastbacks first drummer Duff McKagan.  A little inconvenient to have a singer living in Seattle though. Now we have Lisa and she's great. We couldn't have found anyone better to have as The Flatmates singer.

How did you go about picking Verity, Brian and Lisa?

Rocker: I saw Lisa play a couple of gigs in 2011 - and some time in early 2012 realised she would make an excellent front person for the Flatmates, so we asked her. I've known Brian for a few years, his band Peru are also playing the Nottingham all-dayer. When I happened to mention to Brian that we were re-forming, he volunteered to play drums. Then we decided to play live. At this point Sarah decided that she didn't want to be in the band, and so Verity, who I know through the Bristol indie scene, stepped in, and is learning to play the bass.

There's been a lot written about C86 (and its aftermath) recently. From the inside, did you think that you were part of something that would have such a legacy?

Rocker: For me, 1986 was our 1976 - Martin and I were too young to have played much of a part in the original punk explosion, apart from going to gigs, buying the records, and of course listening to John Peel. Like so many other people of our age our lives were changed by those gigs and records. When we decided to form the band, the DIY punk ethic informed all that we did - Martin started the record label, I DJ'd, we put indie gigs on weekly throughout 1986. With the number of great bands that were around then, many of which never broke out of the indie scene, it is no surprise at all to me that people are now re-discovering them - but at the time we just did what we wanted to, without any thought of a legacy or whatever.

Martin: It was an incredibly creative time. Everyone was writing fanzines, promoting gigs, starting labels. We even themed our gig posters as if they were a series of art works. Art was a very big influence in the C86 scene. There was a big Warhol thing going on with Subway, and elements of Situationism. For me, '67 was as influential as '77. As for legacy...
never gave it a moment's thought.

And was C86 as ideologically sound as the legend has it?

Rocker: As with all scenes there was a whole range of attitudes - from the Sarah Records crew who always tried to run their label to match their socialist polemic, to the self-interested and arrogant people in certain bands whose only interest was their career, in a very Thatcherite way. Most people who came to our gigs and bought our records just liked the music, and an often beery night out, I guess.

Martin: I don't remember there being any more "ideology" than at any other particular time. It was more about sweeping away the fag end of goth, the major label gloss and the general dullards that seemed to be everywhere. I was just a kid with a fanzine who saw bands I liked being overlooked by big record companies. I had no money or experience and ran the label from my bedroom at my parents house in Bristol, but I still wanted to give those labels a bloody nose by getting my bands on the radio and in the charts. That's why I did things like 12" singles that Sarah Records found so abhorrent. They wanted to be outside of "the business" - I wanted to gatecrash the party, change the records and piss in their punch bowl.  Mind you, Matt would have his rant at Subway in Are You Scared To Get Happy then we'd bump into each other at the same gig and he'd apologise and we'd just talk about bands and fanzines. We'd just go "hello trees, hello flowers..." and go all Fotherington Thomas whenever Sarah Records was mentioned in the Subway HQ. They were doing something different from Subway, but we co-existed quite happily. I don't know if it was ideological so much as good natured rivalry.

Rocker, you missed out on 'Shimmer'. Were you all still friends at the time, and was there a little hint of jealousy when it became a "hit"?

Rocker: Ha - I don't remember being jealous. 'Shimmer' was already in our live set before I left the band (I think!) and it was an obvious pick for release as a single. In my book it did no better than 'I Could Be In Heaven' (which I did play on), since both records got to number 42 in the only chart that matters - John Peel's Festive 50.

Martin: Rocker came up with the name  'Shimmer' though he didn't realise at the time. I had the guitar riff for the verse but didn't know what to do with it. It was a baking hot July day and as we drove over the Avonmouth Bridge the far end was covered in a heat haze. Rocker said "wow, look at that shimmer" and then I knew what that riff was for.

What's your favourite memory of the first Flatmates incarnation?

Rocker: Eating cold rice pudding out of a tin at 5am before sleeping on the floor of a Dutch promoter's office. This may well be certain other band members' least favourite memory.

Martin: Loads of great gigs mainly, but Chrissie Hynde at Dingwalls telling Deb how much she liked the band has got to be up there - even if just for seeing Debbie struck speechless!

And what excites you most this time around?

Rocker: The prospect of playing to people who may not have been born when we first toured, and the challenge of creating new songs as good or better than the old ones. Also the prospect of playing places like the US, where the original band never played.

Martin: The enthusiasm and creativity is fantastic. We already have that gang mentality. It's the reason for bands existing, and its the way all bands should be. Four of us run record labels, three of us are writing Flatmates songs and actually any member of the band could do. Most bands are lucky if they have more than one person doing that. We're like the A-Team!

What can we expect from the band now? Will you finally get around to an album?

Rocker: Yes. Recording an album of new material feels like a natural step forward from playing these new songs live. Hopefully for 2014 release. By the way, the compilation album 'Potpourri' is getting a deluxe reissue in a double vinyl edition, out mid-July on Optic Nerve Records.

Martin: We've had enough songs for an album for the last two years. Now Lisa is writing Flatmates songs and the competition is spurring us all on. We could have enough new songs for three albums by 2014, and they'd all be great!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Summer Twins

Where have Summer Twins been all my life? Who are these people that have made this horrible, long, week full of LIFE CHANGING THINGS just about bearable? Are they aliens? I don't care...

Summer Twins new single is called 'Forget Me' and it's out on Burger Records. The duo are sisters who play live with a bassist and make the sort of 1950s-influenced garage-pop that's all the rage right now. Indeed, this video is styled to the max, but it sort of doesn't matter to me; it's got an ace old record player in it, and a cat, and a ripple-y guitar effect that flips my stomach right over. You'll listen to this one over and over, believe me.

Frankly, Summer Twins make me want to dress up and get my hair cut into a bob, which is quite something for a 39-a-half-year old male. Be afraid.

You can buy the 'Forget Me' ep here, and you really, really should. In the meantime, I'm about to wade into this lovely lot.


Summer Twins: Forget Me from Joy Newell on Vimeo.



Sunday, 2 June 2013

In place of strife

Whilst Golden Dawn continue to carry out their Third Reich fantasies in Greece, and the lumpen proletariat rump that is the EDL enjoy their 15 minutes of fame in the UK, it might seem churlish to turn to pop music to take you away from the big cloud of shite that seems to be pouring over us day after day. But, whilst our mainstream politicians wring their hands at the daily atrocities they helped bring about, we can show them what it might like look once they've all been swept down the waste pipe of history by heading off to Indietracks, or, indeed, coming along to our pre-Indietracks party. From there, the festival is only literally around the corner.

We can't promise worldwide revolution just yet, but we know we're on the right track...

.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Lost Tapes - Lost Tapes ep (Eardums Pop)

The seriously prolific and mostly excellent Eardrums Pop have scored again with Lost Tapes and their debut ep full of fuzzy pop wonderment.

Lost Tapes, from that Spain, take the best of late 80s/early 90s guitar pop and mix it with a very modern take on how great records should sound. Opener 'War in the Netherlands' buzzes along much in the manner of The Hobbes Fanclub, whilst 'By You' wallows in the glamour of shadowy effects pedals and a gorgeously hazy vocal that brings back some of Primal Scream's earlier, better moments.

Meanwhile, back at the technicolour dream party, 'Come With Me' sounds like Spacemen 3 could've done if they'd not lost it and recorded that terrible last album; hypnotic does not quite do this track justice. Finally (oh no!), 'Raincoat' drenches us all in some seriously blissed-out dream pop (urgh).

You should know by now that I have no clue what I'm talking about most of the time, so do the decent thing and have a listen for yourself.