Thursday 30 December 2010

Euphoria 2010

Milky Wimpshake in full flight. Nottingham, 25 September 2010
In the absence of lists, there's one stand out moment from this year of pop for me, and that was on the Saturday night of the Nottingham weekender. That's right - I'm celebrating a gig I was partly responsible for putting on. The indiepop scene is a dot.

Downstairs that night four of my favourite bands played one after the other in a packed pub that was full of smiling faces and beating hearts. It was like we'd won for a couple of hours, you see. There in that little pub was a group of like-minded souls there to listen to Horowitz, Betty and the Werewolves, Milky Wimpshake and Allo Darlin'.

There have been times in the past when things at gigs have just clicked and the outside world of work and bills and government attacks on us all seem a million miles away; The Deirdres after Indietracks 2008, for example, or Prolapse back in 1994 at the Narrowboat (and I will stop going on about that one day). But that night in September was perhaps better than both of those occasions, because the anticipation was so high, and those bands didn't let us down. Not even the Mariners conceding a late equaliser to Altrincham could spoil things.

Sandy (whose photo that is up there) called the atmosphere "euphoric". I couldn't possibly comment, but somehow that gig shone a ray of sunshine into an exhausting, dispiriting year that was only made bearable by some fine, fine music and the thrilling fightback of some sections of the student population in the UK, and abroad.

So, thanks to Allo Darlin', The Felt Tips, Standard Fare, Sarandon, The Cannanes, Evans the Death, Matinee Records, The Sweet Nothings, Marianthi and her dedication to the Midland Mainline ticket office and all at Atomic Beat and Spiral Scratch, Northern Portrait, MJ Hibbett and his Validators, Sourpatch, February Records, Eardrums Music, Summer Library, The Indietracks crew, Tender Trap, Fortuna Pop!, Math and Physics Club, Bart and Friends, Scumbag Philosopher, Apple Orchard, Andy at a fog of ideas, Alan Connell, Baffin Island, Transmittens, The Awesomelines, Boy Genius, Electric Pop Group, Milky Wimpshake, Sourpatch, Withered Hand, Shrag, and loads of others I've almost certainly missed. And good bye Keith Alexander.

Oh look - a list.

See you next year.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Reissue, repackage

The song 'Dear Morrissey' on the Felt Tips 'Living and Growing' album earlier this year sort of sums up how I feel about the man himself these days, but, of course, The Smiths remain a very different proposition.

I always cringe slightly when people say a band or a song changed their lives, because they don't really, but The Smiths certainly affected the way I look at things when I was a teenager - and that's carried on throughout my life. I can't really say that about any other band (although maybe The Housemartins come close).

So, I was a bit excited when the usually mental Morrissey Solo forums chucked out a gem of a link where you can download some previously unreleased Smiths stuff that spanned the entirety of the band's time together. For some people this will hardly register, of course, but for me listening to these 'new' songs gives me the sort of weird mixture of excitement and wonder that I felt when I was first listening to The Smiths aged 13.

Tracks like the rough version of 'Death of a Disco Dancer' manage to pack as much wonderment into five odd minutes as most bands do into their lifetimes. Listening to the John Porter version of 'Sheila Take a Bow' - something I'd only read about in books up to now - is like discovering that Father Christmas is real after all, whilst discovering that 'Frankly Mr Shankly''s forgotten brass parts made it an even more cute slap around the face brings only the biggest smile.

Excuse the hyperbole, but, for me, this is all pretty wonderful stuff. It very nearly brings back that feeling of going out and buying a Smiths album and taking it home and putting it on your turntable for the first time. And in a year which I think has been packed with brilliant albums, singles and live performances, finding these new old songs seems like we're maybe a little bit vindicated for carrying on playing in bands, putting out records and going to gigs. Not that we need it, of course...

Thursday 23 December 2010

Festive fayre

A layer of chips will now sign off for a few days (please don't cry) whilst it eats itself stupid and drinks too many bottles of Bath Ales (why am I talking in the third person?). But before I go, here are two Christmas songs you won't hear on the radio over the next few days because the world is UNFAIR and DIRTY.

First up is Vom Vorton's version of the Fountains of Wayne's 'I Want an Alien For Christmas'. I once fell asleep during the Fountains of Wayne at Reading Festival. 1997, I believe, but Vom (Tom) makes it all better by being Vom (Tom).

Secondly, there is Oxo Foxo's deeply gorgeous 'It Never Snows at Christmas'. This is one for those in the audience who will be enduring a turkey ready meal for one on Saturday. Our hearts are with you, comrades.

Happy Christmas.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Bubblegum Lemonade - Sophomore Release (Matinee Records)

I can't say I really like the lumping together of any kind of 'Scottish sound', but it's hard not to spot the Caledonian influences on Bubblegum Lemonade's second, wonderful album.

There goes some Aztec Camera on 'You Only Think Twice', and there's a slew of 'Darklands'-era JAMC on stuff like 'Girlfriend Ghost', 'Maybe Someday', 'She's Got a Gun' and 'We Could Send Emails'. Add in a touch of Byrdsian jangle and you've got a potion that's pretty hard to resist.

Laz McCluskey, for it is he, is nothing if not prolific. The beauty of this album is not that it's a JAMC-revivalist's wet dream, no; it's that it's at the same time steadfastly consistent without sounding like twelve slightly different versions of the same song. 'Sophomore Release' gives you a dozen pop gems without breaking sweat, and it's a huge hit with my 15-month old who goes crackers dancing every time 'Caroline's Radio' comes in. He's got taste

Not a Scottish record, then but very much a record from Scotland. I'm sure Roddy, Jim and William will be happy to have Bubblegum Lemonade as peers on this evidence.

You can buy 'Sophomore Release' from Matinee Records here.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

A Christmas message from Lorna

Lorna have been rattling around Nottingham for so long now, that it’s very easy to forget they exist. Well, when I say “rattling”, I mean in the quietest, most polite sense possible, y’see, because they hardly play locally at all and they’re forced to put their records out on an American label.

The reliable Words on Music has has again stepped in to release Lorna’s new ep, ‘The Ghosts of Winter, which is available electronically only until February next year. It’s a beautiful thing, and those that rattle on about Low’s Christmas songs need to check out Lorna immediately, because they’re way, way better.

Sure, the songs are so quiet they’re barely there, but there’s a real beauty at work here - a subtle pop nuance thrown in here and there which makes for something approaching the beguiling.

There’s plenty of lo-fi bands around at the moment who try and sound like Lorna. And yet Lorna aren’t lo-fi at all. They might not bleed from the fingers through every song, but that doesn’t mean they don’t give their all to produce something that makes Christmas a whole lot more beautiful.

The EP, priced at just £4 will be sent out digitally to your email address, and can be purchased via Paypal from here.

Friday 17 December 2010

Never (ever, ever) enough

I’m not really one for end of year lists. It’s all a bit clinical to me, and different records can mean more to me than others at different times of my life. However, if you’re putting a gun to my cat and forcing me to pick my favourite record of the last year, then it has to be Sourpatch’s - ‘Crushin’’.

What’s so good about this album? What isn’t, more like. From sugar sweet ‘intro’ with the kids setting the scene, the album just rips my heart in two every time. It’s not got tired after so many months. Every time a tune so perfect finishes you think the next one can’t possibly top it, and yet it does it best to. It’s an emotional onslaught - a kind of shock and awe on your pop senses and nerves. It’s also, as I’ve found out this last month, perfect music to listen to on the early morning bus.

My only regret about ‘Crushin’ is that I didn’t get hold of it earlier. I wasted a good six weeks of 2010 without this album, and I feel very ashamed about that.
Right in the middle of the album is also probably my favourite song of the year. It’s called ‘Water Without Land’, and it features the lyrics: "Our days are numbered, our days are already gone/And when you remember me, remember me fondly/When you remember bme, remember the good things." And that just kills me every time.
Yesterday I had to take the longest train the world to Northampton. A cold, windy, raining Wednesday afternoon, and a change at Tamworth station - a collection of buildings that could be ripped straight out of a Joy Division video. In my headphones were Sourpatch, somehow carrying me forward on the slowest London Midland train in the world.

Stepping out of Northampton's lo-rise, endlessly upsetting train station, and things don't get much better. A huge double carriageway splits the the town in two and the cars speeding down in threaten to drown out the music. Yet Sourpatch win through - they always seem to.

Alone in a cell-like room in a grotty Travelodge on a Wednesday night in a London commuter town. A shit kebab shop across the road offers up the only thing that I'm going to eat tonight. The last song on 'Crushin' - 'I Want You Either Way' seems like the perfect gallows humour.

This is one of the many reasons why I think 'Crushin' is my favourite record of 2010. I'm not even totally sure it was released this year and not last, but who cares? As a soundtrack to a year when people's lives have been thrown into further confusion by a government who want to ram home the UK class divide that still - ridiculously - exists in 2010, then sometimes 'Crushin' has been the only thing that makes any sense at all.

Monday 13 December 2010

Quiet is the new loud (perhaps)

And so back down to earth with Alison Eales' fantastic little ep on EardrumsPop, which, you think, was written to soothe a fevered brow, such is its influence on my mood.

Using nowt more technological than a guitar, a keyboard and a folks-y voice, Eales's 'Land and Sea' might not shout from the rooftops about how great it is, but the magic is there in the songs, whether it's in the wistful 'Land and Sea', or 'Vigils', which could either be a Tindersticks song, or something from '... Arab Strap'-era Belle and Sebastian.

Best is last, as it should be. 'Overblown Gestures' is modern folkpop at its peak, a sort of sea shanty that makes you want to hold hands with the person next to you, whoever that might be.

Sat here in the suburbs, waiting for a fridge to be delivered, these songs make perfect sense. But they'd also make sense sat in front of a bullying computer at work, or waiting for a train, or driving home for the night. They just make perfect sense. Okay?

You can download 'Land and Sea from the EardrumsPop website, or listen to it here.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Stop the press. Please.

The full weight of the state is now committed to airbrushing over the Coalition government's violent attacks on students from poorer backgrounds, by playing out a ridiculous farce about Charles Windsor's car being surrounded by a group intent on overthrowing what makes Britain so virtuous. That being two wildly over-privileged idiots driving around London in a Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, apparently.

Friday's mainstream newspapers screamed about "terror" and "thugs" and "anarchists". According to the Daily Mail, Parker-Bowles had "terror in her eyes". Good. For a few seconds she experienced the day-to-day feeling of those at the mercy of the government's vicious programme against the working class in the UK. A taste of her class's medicine was working its way down her throat, until she coughed it up again, relying on the might of the security services to take her and her ridiculous husband to their vital date at the Royal Variety Performance to watch Cheryl Cole lip-synch her way through her next insipid piece of drivel.

Everyone from David Cameron down to the ever-spineless NUS and Labour Party leadership was on hand to decry those who faced up to Windsor and Parker-Bowles, as well as the violent tactics of the police against those determined to show that they won't just accept the status quo and what Nick Clegg calls "reality".

Until the fairytale nonsense of the Royal Family and all its vile wealth, power and influence is dismantled, then people - especially during a time of austerity and attacks - will become angry. Rightly so, and more power to them. But let's not get sidetracked into thinking this "outrage" is anything more than a story vastly over-promoted by the capitalist press and media in order to drown out the core issues surrounding the increase in student fees and the wider anger at the government's assault on the working class in the UK (and abroad, whilst we're at it).

Still, I'd rather be poked by a wooden stick than Charles Windsor, wouldn't you?

Friday 10 December 2010

Various - The Matinee Holiday Soiree (Matinee Records)

One of the few reasons to look forward to Christmas is the regular festive Matinee ep or album. This year's offering is called the Matinee Holiday Soiree, and when you've got the combined talents of Northern Portrait, Math and Physics Club, Strawberry Whiplash, Bubblegum Lemonage and Champagne Riot then the end result is going to be pretty special.

Northern Portrait kick off things with 'Leave the Trees Alone', a paean to the humble fir which we gaudily dress each year. It's so Christmassy that you feel like breaking open the sherry.

Strawberry Whiplash's 'Santa Needs a Holiday' continues the pretty obvious theme, and sounds a little like 'Twisterella'-era Ride. And there's very little wrong with that. Take a break, Santa!

This is the first time I've heard Champagne Riot, and whilst 'Xmas Safari' isn't as instant as the two tracks before it, the refrain of "the same routine" hits the spot perfectly.

Bubblegum Lemonade are on a roll right now, and 'White Noise Christmas' is a lovely piece of dronepop - the sort of thing you want on your headphones to drown out the Queen's Speech at 3pm on Christmas Day. Or is it 2pm? Whatever...

Math and Physics Club bring a touch of decorum to proceedings with 'It Must Be Christmas', a reflective piece which namechecks all the right things, but comes off sounding deliciously cynical. Christmas again already, eh? Math and Physics seem to be longing for summer.

So, when your around your folks house on 25th, and your Mum tipsily suggests putting on that bloody Cliff Richard* album for the 15th year in a row, pour her another glass, sit her down and out The Matinee Holiday Soiree on the stereo instead. She'll thank you for it.

Download Strawberry Whiplash's 'Santa Needs a Holiday' here. And then go and buy the ep here.

*Of course you could also tell her about that Cliff Richard cover that Northern Portrait did, but that's properly best forgotten...

Monday 6 December 2010

Goats on Boxes! This Thursday!

Wake up, sleepyheads. This Thursday Goats on Boxes are putting on a live show that will be so much fun, you'll want to cancel Christmas. See that poster there for details, and I'll see you on that table I always stand on at the back. Catch me if I fall.

There's more info on facebook, here.

Sunday 5 December 2010

The holiday season starts here

As someone who has felt some sense of duty to try and see both sets of parents over Christmas each year, MJ Hibbett & the Validators' new Christmas song rings oh so true.

The festive period has long become ore a boring chore than a chance to relax and enjoy a few days off w*rk, but this year I'll be marking 29 December down in my diary as the day when I don't to give hastily bought gifts to people who don't really want them, drink another can of shit lager, and eat my own bodyweight in pastry. From now on 29 December is ours.

'The 29th Day of December is available to download from here, or as part of the Christmas album 'MJ Hibbett & The Validators' Christmas Selection Box' from here.

Right, I'm off to put the Christmas tree up. The fun never ends...

The Momeraths

It seems kind of apt that at a time when Pocketbooks are recording their second album, along comes a band who sound like they've been listening to 'Flight Paths' on repeat for the last 18 months. Well, there are worse ways to spend your time...

The Momeraths release the 'Your Winter Blues' ep through their bandcamp page on 20 December with the sound of early Pocketbooks performances echoing in the background. The girl/boy vocals, the handclaps, the guitar shapes, the perky bass - all that's missing are some keys.

This isn't a criticism, you understand; Pocketbooks released perhaps my favourite album of last year, and there's every chance that 'Your Winter Blues' could stick around the playlist for some time to come. The songs here, and on the band's other two releases 'Millipede Stomps' and 'A Single Cup of Tea', portray a refreshing sense of pop naivety - and I like that.

At times there are also hints of Free Loan Investments, particularly on 'The Boyfriend Song', which, despite being decidely upbeat tells the tale of love betrayed and could the snotty little sister of FLI's 'Kick His Balls Out'. Spunky stuff.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Art is Hard

Happy December, chumps. And, if like me you're already tired of looking for Christmas gifts for people you don't really see all year, then you'll need something to divert your attention. I have just the thing.

Plymouth is hardly the centre of anything, but I'm hard pressed to think of any decent bands or record labels that have come from there. That might change with the advent of Art is Hard Records, whose second releases is a terribly exciting split single between Exeter's New Years Evil and Falmouth's - that's right, Falmouth's - The Black Tambourines (there's a clue to what they sound like in the question).

New Years Evil might have a ropey name but 'Shame' reminds me of a lot of late 80s/early 90s indie guitar pop, like The Family Cat, or maybe even a hint of Wedding Present, and has an ace, noisy ending. It's dreamy, nostalgic stuff for me, anyway.

The Black Tambourines 'Tommy' sounds particular now in a Frankie Rose/Neverever way. It's all about reverb and muffled vocals and atmospherics and rushed drums. And it's all pretty ace, really. They sound like they'd be pretty wonderful live, too.

Art is Hard are making this single a labour of love. They've been working with a number of their favourite south-west photographers and each 7" comes with an original print, as well as a full 5 track digital EP and a limited edition zine. Impressive stuff.

You can listen to both tracks here before you start ordering.