Saturday 26 January 2013

The Pretty Greens

Want to 60s influenced death disc pop fun that doesn't sound contrived or produced to within an inch of its life? Then look no further than The Pretty Greens, a shambling pop tour de force who rattle out the sort of tunes that seem to be missing this side of the ocean.

Sometimes The Pretty Greens sound like Siouxsie Sioux fronting an obscure 60s beat group. Other times they sound like an infinitely more exciting Beach Boys. But perhaps if I'm being really lazy then I'll compare them to Dublin's excellent September Girls, for the two bands seem kindred spirits.

Anyway, don't take my garbled word for it, take a listen to 'Jealous Waves' and then go and buy it from here.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Tunabunny - Genius Fatigue (Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records)

To call your groundbreaking third album 'Genius Fatigue' takes a wit beyond most bands nowadays, but then that should hardly be a surprise, because with this record Tunabunny have taken what they've built over their last two records, mixed it all together and spat our ten tracks of pure beauty.

After that hyperbole, relax. 'Genius Fatigue' writhes all over the place, from the Joan Jett/glam-stomp of 'Pachyderm, Fallen' to the pure pop of 'Serpents & Light' and 'Form a Line', and - of course - the pure spookiness of 'Wrong Kind of Attention'. It's almost like they were trying things out on their first two albums, and that kind of creativity has paid off with this, the first great album of 2013.

Musically, then, it's all over the place and just about impossible to classify. But listened to with open ears (metaphorically, you scoundrels), it's essentially a pop album. Those who saw the band last year on their semi-legendary tour with the dear, departed Shrag were genuinely surprised at how pop this band sounded live. On 'Genius Fatigue' they prove they can translate this to vinyl.

Not that Tunabunny are hairslide casualities just yet. They have a power and bile about them this time around that might've been there before, but this time it's more focused. 'Duchess for Nothing' sounds like Hole if they'd been as good as they thought they were; whilst 'Government of Throats' just rams it up the poor, sad excuse for an American Dream as well as any band is doing at the moment.

As well as the full-frontal stuff there's the aforementioned 'Serpents & Light' - a lilting lullaby, carried on by a killer bassline that sounds like it's about to fall over at any moment... but just keeps on keepin' on. There's also the creeping menace of 'You Do What You Want', a kind of tribal pop that no-one seems dare to make at the moment.

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.

But 'Genius Fatigue' here.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Milky Wimpshake - Heart and Soul in the Milky Way (Fortuna Pop!)

Hear this: in times like these, when a Tory government is opposed by a Tory opposition and their sordid games are played out in front of a Tory media, then you need the new Milky Wimpshake album more than ever.

'Heart and Soul in the Milky Way' is 15 fizzbang pop songs about the modern state of the human condition. In the grand Milky Wimpshake tradition it feature two cover versions which are superior to their originals, in Jake Thackery's 'La-Di-Dah' and Les Cox Sportifs' 'Omnia Mea Mecum'.

'Heart and Soul in the Milky Way' simply reaffirms Milky Wimpshake as leaders of the pop underground - 20 years after they first surfaced. Pete Dale remains that underground's finest frontman and songwriter, and, instead of reviewing this vital album (suffice to say you need to buy it immediately from Fortuna Pop!), I thought I'd ask him a few questions about life, love, and politics...

How much has this government fueled what you write about?

Not much, frankly; I hate them, of course, but when I was writing the songs on the new LP, such things weren't really on my mind. This wasn't a decision, by the way: I didn't just decide to not write any 'political' songs, but everytime I got the buzz for a new song, it turned out to be nothing to do with, y'know, the government. Maybe the next LP will be called 'I Hate Michael Gove', more than possible, but this one is what it is! I sat down with my guitar and this is what came out me 'ead!

What's 'Uncool Jerk' about? Do you feel as much like that now as you did 20 years ago, if indeed you did at all?
Today, I don't feel much like I did in 1993, that much is for sure! And I was aware that I was harking back to that kind of twenty-something angst with this one, but with tongue firmly in cheek (although, to be honest, I think my tongue was always either in or near my cheek in all eras of Milky Wimpshake, which I guess is what you're driving at with the rejoinder 'if you did at all'?).

'Uncool Jerk' is just a throwaway song, really, just a bit of fun: there is a new-ish band in Newcastle called Women in Revolt, kind of a polysexual mix up of blokes in dresses but who still look like blokes (eg. beards remaining in place), women who look too harsh-faced to be women, Wayne County cover versions, that kind of thing; I really like them, but I noticed that they have a 'go-go' dancer who totally has 'the moves' and, the day  after I saw them live for the first time, I wrote this song in 5 minutes as a kind of grievance thing (ie. why don't I got the moves?). Having said that, it's not really 'about' Women in Revolt and their dancer, just a daft punk song about realising that I'm uncool and that I'm not a good dancer but, also, reminding y'all that I ride a bicycle and I don't wanna BMW (in case you forgot!). 

Did you really expect Wimpshake to still be going after 20 years?

No, otherwise I would have picked a name that I wouldn't feel semi-embarrassed to say in front of my children, my dad, colleagues at work, etc. I'm not really embarrassed; but it does sound a bit like a reference to, y'know, white body fluids or something. I did once see us listed as Wimpsnake, which sounds a bit more rockin' perhaps, like Whitesnake for wimps! Joking aside, though, I started the band on a whim and then put out the first LP because Slampt needed some product to keep the coffers turning over circa 1996 and then, well, people kept offering us the odd gig and here we are today, international rock stars! Well, not really obviously, but I think we've released 5 or 6 singles and 5 albums, each selling between 500 and 2000 (maybe more in some instances, eg. 'Lovers Not Fighters' which I think had 1000 CDs on Troubleman, 1000 CDs on Fortuna Pop I think 500 on vinyl through Youth Clbu Tape Club!), so I guess we do have a bit of a following, which I greatly appreciate and, in short, me and Christine still enjoy doing it and always seem to manage to find a drummer in the end..!
Do you think in Fortuna Pop! you've found the perfect label to put your music out on?
Maybe, yeah! Minimal pressure re: musical content, decent treatment re: free merch for the band, good support in terms of finding gigs, and they seem to make a good effort at getting people to review it. And I really like several of the bands on the label, notably Would-be-Goods, Tender Trap, Allo Darlin', Comet Gain and - my absolute favourites - Sodastream. (I could extend this list, before anyone reading this takes the hump, but basically you can just go to the F-pop website if you want a list of who's on the label... There's no band on the label which I dislike, in other words I like them all and they all seem to be lovely people, as I find is the case 99% of the time in the UK indie pop underground, don't you agree?)

Do you still listen to new bands? Who're your favourites?
Lovely Eggs, well, they've been going donkeys years but I love them. Um, can I say Viv Albertine? I'm so way into her new LP! That Scottish band, what are they called... Golden Grrrls! Their song that goes 'I don't love you anyway' (no song title on the single, punkily enough!) is an absolute killer! Spook School are great. In Newcastle, Les Cox Sportif are fab, and I really like Rexine and Silver Fox too. In Oxford, Pete Momtchiloff's group Hot Hooves are great, especially their song 'Christ on a Bike'! I'm sure there are lots of others but I can't think right now. Oh, Martha from Durham! So fab!! And, outside of the pop scene, I'm really into Uzeda from Italy at the moment. Obviously I could mention mainstream things I've been into lately, eg. nostalgia for Squeeze which I've been indulging in, but in terms of new bands those are the ones who spring to mind.

Do you hold any illusions at all that a Labour government would be any better than the shower we're lumbered with at the moment?
Yes, I am conning myself with that illusion! Loaded question my friend!! But I think it's obvious that they would be less bad; some praise! The world needs a massive revolution; I don't expect this to happen in England, well, not tomorrow anyway, but who knows? We need a revolution, though. In the meantime, a Labour government would be less bad than a Tory/SDP (or whatever they call themselves...) government.

Do you still connect more with anarchism than the more organised left groups?
Hmmn. I believe in being more organised, and I don't subscribe at all to that version of ultra-anarchism which is essentially ultra-liberalism ie. a faith in spontaneous and complete liberty for individuals without responsibility. But the kinds of anarchistic groups which I used to contribute to WERE very organised, and did operate very co-operatively; there was spontaneity, sure, but I've never agreed with the Leninist-Marxist line against spontaneity.

I'm reading alot of Badiou and Zizek at the moment, and read a LOT of Marx and Engels during my PhD, so I'm thinking about these kind of things a lot. I think my allegiences have shifted a little bit more towards Marxism and thus slightly away from anarchism, to be honest, but worryingly I've also become much less active in the last 5 years or so. This has only got worse since I moved to Oxford, sadly. But I do hope to get directly active again, and soon; and the first question for me, if I'm going to participate with others in an action, is always: am I prepared to risk spending several hours in a prison cell with these people?

Generally, in my experience of dealing with people on 'the left', whether they're black, red or green in orientation terms, generaly I feel that I would be prepared for that eventuality.

Wimpshake are spread all over the country now. How easy it to get together for practices and stuff? Does life get in the way?
It's not easy, but I think we'll keep it going for a good bit yet. Hope so!
What's the band up to for the rest of the year?
London next week, Nottingham on 2nd February, London again on 1st March, hopefully Reading and Oxford in April, and then maybe (hopefully) some more gigs here or there in May or June.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Northern Portrait - Pretty Decent Swimmers (Matinee Recordings)

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.

Urgh. Snogging a heart sounds disgusting, doesn't it?

Opener, 'Happy Nice Day' jingles and a-jangles in trademark Northern Portrait way before reaching an almost falsetto crescendo. It's as strong a song as the band have written, and blasts its way into your brain. 'Greetings From Paris' is, by comparison, almost bashful, with its "la-las", but Stefan gives a virtuoso vocal performance.

My favourite is 'Bon Voyage', a kind of Velvet Underground-meets-Orange Juice romp through a holiday romance ripped asunder by a lack of bravado, which reminds me of 'Queen is Dead'-era Smiths. It's also got a piano solo which you'll fall for instantly.

This remarkably self-assured ep ends the same as it began, with the power pop of 'I Feel Even Better', a sort of antidote to 'Bon Voyage'. Stefan is back on form, his pecker is up, and he's not afraid to tell his detractors how it is. This one's a proper earworm too, with its Marr-esque guitar refrain and flourishes.

There's dirty talk of Northern Portrait coming over to the UK to play some shows this summer. On this evidence we should all start getting excited right about now.

You can buy 'Pretty Decent Swimmers' here.

The Spook School + Milky Wimpshake + The Sweet Nothings + The Understudies, 2nd February

I suspect, if you have any heart and soul whatsoever, you'll be interested in this...

Honestly, you want to hear the glorious state of the new Milky Wimpshake album. Please don't miss this.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Love doesn't just stop

The last 24 hours has been a bit rum. First, last night, Shrag announced live on national radio that they were calling it a day, and just now Standard Fare have announced they're to go their separate ways too.

I can't say I'm particularly surprised by either decision, but neither am I particularly saddened by the news either. Pop music is all about the now; the rush of the immediate, immaculate seven inch single, or the perfect album. Standard Fare and Shrag made both of those things, and they both leave us on a high.

Memories of both bands run deep. I first came across Shrag at the Spiral Scratch all-dayer in... erm, was it 2008? They stood out because they played their songs like every note was the last. After that I bumped into them every few months, until we finally dragged them to Nottingham twice last year to play with Tunabunny and then our all-dayer. Both times they played and looked like proper pop stars.

Last year's 'Canines' album, I might have mentioned, is probably my favourite album of the last ten years. They couldn't have topped that, and so off they ride into the sunset. Pop music has been all the better for their fun, grace, smiles and skill tunes.

That Standard Fare's first demo sat on my office desk for at least three months before is one of the biggest minor regrets of my life. I vividly remember listening to it one afternoon when I had sod all to do and then playing it for the rest of the day. Then biking home like a maniac so that I could play it over and over again all night.

Standard Fare played some amazing shows for us in Nottingham - and beyond. The two that stick out are the sweaty, packed show with Mascot Fight, Pocketbooks and Allo Darlin' - the first time we'd seen The Chameleon so busy. Everyone at that gig thought that we wouldn't see Standard Fare play in such a small venue again. Life, as ever, gets in the way of the best things.

The second was last October at our all-dayer, when Standard Fare whipped the crowd into such a frenzy that the beams in the bar downstairs were bent like a banana. No-one died, but it would've been a heck of a way to go.

Standard Fare's two albums are flawless examples of the immediacy of pop music, and why I love it so much. I can also say that I've stood and watched Grimsby Town (lose) with one of my heroes.

Shrag and Standard Fare will be much-missed, but what they've done will be remembered and discovered by other bands who just might go on to touch their greatness. I'm looking forward to that.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

The first great single of 2013

Confusion continues to reign about just how Shrag are going to better last year's 'Canines' album, but when you can rip another classic single off that record, we'll worry about the future when it happens, shall we?

'On the Spines of Old Cathedrals' is my favourite track from 'Canines'. It's apparently not about Lincoln Cathedral, but one of those fancy Dan foreign cathedrals we hear so much about in the press. Shrag, it seems, were quite taken with the building, and Helen went a wrote some lyrics about it.

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.

If they want to write a song about Lincoln Cathedral, then I can't help them, but I could tell them about climbing to the top of Lincoln Castle (an altogether different beast, not to mention building), on a school trip and having a massive panic attack because of my ridiculous vertigo. I'm available for counseling sessions should they want to draw on my experiences.

Anyway, it's 2nd January, and this is probably the single of the year already. Unless you know something I don't...

Download 'On the Spines of Old Cathedrals' here