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.