Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Bearsuit departure

Ever fancied seeing Lisa from Bearsuit in period dress? Well, here's your chance. I think this is what those in the know call "something of a departure" from Bearsuit's previous sound, isn't it? Catchy as a bugger, mind...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Shrag - Life! Death! Prizes! (WIAIWYA)

There needs to be a place for everything in my deeply compartmentalised world, and I've no idea any more where to put Shrag. With their new album, 'Life! Death! Prizes!" they've confused me no end.

When we saw them at Indietracks a couple of years ago they thrilled the pants off me. They reminded me of seeing Huggy Bear at the Narrowboat in Nottingham all those years ago. They reminded me of the stunning rush of excitement that I used to get from seeing Prolapse all over the country. And most of all they reminded me that great music doesn't have to be hairbands and glockenspiels all the time.

But they're not an indiepop band - far from it. Not that it matters, of course. Still, I can't help feeling that they're turning into the new Long Blondes. Not that that matters, either, of course. But anyone who went to see those last few Long Blondes gigs will know what an unedifying experience that was.


'Life! Death! Prizes!' is as good an art pop album as there's been for a decade. More memories: it reminds me of that Ikara Colt album that was so badly ignored at the beginning of the last decade. It also gives out more than a lot of the more generic indiepop bands do nowadays. It's thoughtful and it's got soul. It's also inventive and it's got perhaps the best single of the year in 'Rabbit Kids'. It's a tricky bugger, for sure.

But it's perhaps on its slower, more atmospheric tracks when it really hits the spot for me. 'Faux When We go Courting''s slightly sinister playground tune might be the best example this (not that it's a flippin' ballad, you understand - just more understated), especially with it's "And deepest in the darkest of June/I dissolved in your room", it's got a killer hook.

'More Than Mornings' brings back the successful formula 'Forty-five 45s' from a few years ago, and is perhaps the album's most affecting track. It's pretty genuinely sad! As is 'Coda', the last track here, on which Helen and Bob show off half-decent-voices-ta-very-much.

And at the end though, it's down to you, innit? Can you bring yourself to fight your way through the crowd of hipsters to continue to hold Shrag to your heart? Me? I'm holding on tight for now.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Hockley Autumn euphoria party 2010

I've not been posting as much lately, partly because I've not had much to say, but mainly because I was ABSOLUTELY SHITTING TERRIFIED about the Nottingham indiepop weekender this last Saturday and Sunday.

Would enough people come? Would the PA turn up okay? Would Pete from Horowitz be able to bring a bass amp with him? How were we going to cope with lugging the PA and all the gear downstairs with us half way through the day because the venue had double booked us?

The answers: Yes, plenty. After a minor terrifying delay, yes. Of course he did - he's a walking miracle. With ease - Harvest Pale has strength-giving properties.

Everyone and everything came together this weekend. The atmosphere in Bunkers Hill during Milky Wimpshake and Allo Darlin' has been described by some as "euphoric". Hyperbole? Maybe, but only just.

Y'see Milky Wimpshake unleashed the sort of pop energy that only they can. Christine started crying when she was playing the still awesome 'Don't Let Our Love Go to Waste/True Love Will Find You in the End' medley. Most of the rest of us just stood there and gawped.

But there were many, many more moments.

The Peterboroughs started off the day with their last ever gig and were self-effacing enough to make the whole thing charming.

Stefan from Northern Portrait might have been playing alone, but he filled the room. The songs remain the same even without the band. It helps that he's a cute as a button, of course.

The Sweet Nothings were playing their first gig with a new drummer, and you really couldn't tell. They played with a new found confidence - wallflowers no more.

Horowitz, followed by Betty and the Werewolves, followed by Milky Wimpshake, followed by Allo Darlin' - that's about as near perfection as it's going to get, and so it proved.

I don't remember getting home on Saturday night.

Sunday passed in a blur, and I was flagging until Evans the Death popped up and made me feel better just by playing a few pop songs. Crushingly young, they made me feel like a dinosaur with a Zimmer frame, and they for sure won't be playing in such small places as The Chameleon in Nottingham for much longer, but it was nice while it lasted.

I left The Chameleon on my own halfway through The Middle Ones' set. I didn't want to be there when it ended. I wanted to go home and pretend that people will still listening to pop music and having fun, even if I was too tired to be there with them. So I left my co-promoters sorting the money out, and, umm, pulling pints, whilst I jumped in a taxi and ordered a curry.

The euphoria's been replaced, inevitably, by wearisome reality. Still, at least we can start planning for next year...

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Lucksmiths: And so to bed

A final, posthumous release from the mighty Lucksmiths is out soon on Matinee Records and Lost and Lonesome, and it's a fitting way for them to go.

'Get-to-Bed Birds' just glides. Try listening to this whilst remembering all the times you'd had the time of your life watching The Lucksmiths play lives, or danced in your room to their wonderful records, and it'll be hard not to feel that pang of sadness that this really is the end.

Over on t'b-side, "The World of Professional Golf' is similarly downbeat, telling the tale of drinking, world-weariness and, um, coffee. It's a beauty, anyway.

And the songs fade to white. And that's it. I remember seeing The Lucksmiths supporting Hefner in London about ten years ago, and they blew me, and a few hundred others away. Sixteen years is long enough for any band to keep producing pop masterpiece after pop masterpiece. But what a trail they've left behind.

Download 'Get-to-Bed Birds' here, then go and order the single.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Fabienne Delsol - On My Mind (Damaged Goods)

Talking of all things '60s, then it sort of beggars belief the new Fabienne Delsol album was recorded in 2010. It beggars belief in a quite tremendous way, of course, because her new album, 'On My Mind' is the sort of record that brings a smile during times when The Daily Mail is trying to tie women to the kitchen sink all over again.

Here's one woman that won't stand for it, mind. 'On My Mind' is as much about celebrating bring a woman as anything else. Recorded in the Toerag studios, what you get is the sounds of '60s girlpop with a distinctly melancholy twist. Delsol sings about love lost ('I Feel So Blue', love far away ('Faraway Spaceman Blues'), and love she plain doesn't want or need (the remarkable 'Count Me Out').

Elsewhere, things become distincly dark. Closing track 'Strange Shadows' is a pretty powerful, somewhat spooky epic torch song that ends the album on a stubbornly mysterious note. You want to know what happens next, you almost need to know that everything turns out for the best, but Delsol leaves you teased - primed for the next time, perhaps.

An autumn album, then, oh yes. But also one you'll probably still be playing next summer...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

You only leave twice

By way of the Campaign for Bubblegum Lemonade to play live facebook page, I came across a track from the band's upcoming second album, called 'You Only Leave Twice'.

As you can hear, it's pretty brilliant. All '60s production, lightly strummed guitars, cute backing vocals and, erm, bongos.

Laz, please play live some time. Go on.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A little bit of politics

How weak is the union bureaucracy in the UK that it didn't storm the stage and rip Mervyn King limb from limb at the TUC conference this afternoon, eh? Useless bastards.

Anyway, seems those of sound mind in Sweden are similarly incensed by the Alliance's attempt at government in that country. Lucky for them they get a chance to kick them out at this Sunday's election.

To mark this occasion, The Radio Dept have recorded a free single called 'The New Improved Hypocrisy', and you can download it from the Labrador site, here.

A layer of chips calls for a vote (with reservations) for the Left Party, in case you were wondering. Which you weren't. I have no Swedish readers. My indiepop credentials lie in tatters.

Monday, 13 September 2010

MJ Hibbett & the Validators - Forest Moon of Enderby (Artists Against Success)

There are certain songs you can pin to very specific moments in your life, aren't there? Little moments and feelings that come flooding back when you hear those tunes a few years later are worth so much sometimes, and this is why I'm so grateful that MJ Hibbett & the Validators have put this album together.

Why? Because every time I hear 'Billy Jones is Dead' I find my mind spinning back to late nights in 2005 at our tiny flat in the Arboretum, keeping the student neighbours awake (anarchy!) with our singing, and playing guitar on a hobby horse.

And every time I hear 'Leave My Brother Alone' I think back to countless times I've seen the band play this masterpiece live and how I've fought back the tears, just in case anyone thought, y'know, I could be affected by something so emotional yet, brilliantly, unaffected.
And every time I hear 'Let the Weird Band Win' I remember that Hibbett is one of the greatest lyricists of the last decade, and those that write him off as a "comedian" are missing the point somewhat tragically.

There are other gems here, namely: 'Never Going Back to Aldi's', 'The Primal Rhythms of the Nose Flautist' and Graffiti on the Cenotaph', which would make my Validators top 20. And these are the cast-offs, the b-sides - these are supposed to be the afterthoughts. And well, they aren't of course.

Not only that, but when you buy this album you get the chance to a bonus album of 23 even more rare rarities! Oh, ambassador...

As MJ Hibbett & the Validators' remarkable performance at this year's Indietracks showed us, here's a band that's as on top of its game as ever. Long may they continue to provide such cherished memories.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

My heart goes boom

There’s been an interesting discussion on anorak over the last few days about the Pop Recession, and why there appears to be less standalone gigs, and more in the way of popfests, all-dayers and the like.

Pete offered up the opinion that it might have something to do with the real, actual recession going on out there, or the fact that promoters think, “Sod it, if I have the stress of three bands, I might as well have the stress of ten.”

Both perhaps contain a grain of truth.

Later on, the thread turned to the usual groans about venues (or the lack of them), and how students don’t seem to go to gigs these days. That was a massive generalisation by me, of course, but again - I think there’s a grain of truth in there.

But perhaps the most important point about the whole conversation was the need to keep on keeping on with gigs. Sure, a lot of people are doing the work of two people during their mundane, everyday working lives at the moment, and have neither the time nor the energy to go out at night.

Marianthi and Carys point out, though, that the state of Life in General at the moment is what makes going out to see pop bands even more vital, and it’s hard to argue with that. Of course, that’s a lot easier when you live in London than it is when you live in Sheffield or Nottingham or wherever, but at the end of a week like this one, I would've killed to be able to thrown my homework onto the fire and go out and see Evans the Death , like what those lucky ducks in that London did, at the beginning of the weekend.

The constant depressing drip of the cuts to public services and jobs makes throwing caution to the wind and spending £30 on a night out difficult these days. The Tories and Labour (cos let’s not kid ourselves things would be much better had they won the Election) are to blame for this.

But wait! As much as anyone, it’s up to us to show them that we won’t be crushed, and in our own small, insignifcant way, we’ll put up a fight by organising, playing at, and attending gigs when we want to - not when they tell us we can. Viva la pop boom!

That’s if we can be arsed, like...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Hobbes Fanclub and Kay Burley's second ringpiece

Ain't technology grand? For, if it were not for electronic mail, and the like, then we wouldn't have a band like The Hobbes Fanclub, who make the sweetest indiepop you'll hear until next Tuesday.

Seems like this band are based in Bradford and San Paulo. Has there ever been a band based in these two cities? I very much doubt it. Still, tapes pass backwards and forwards over continents and Leon Carroll and Fabiana Karpinski manage to make pop music that gives you the sort of defiant feeling that you only come close to when listening to music. Also, 'Outside Myself' features perhaps my favourite guitar solo this year. Top of the pops!

You better know it immediately.

And if that isn't good enough for you, then you can watch Murdoch's favourite puppet, Kay Burley, getting a second arsehole ripped by fucking Chris Bryant, of all people.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Crouching tiger, hidden Emelie

You might know Emelie as the slightly eccentric, completely loveable, unutterably cute Stockholmer (that's probably wrong, isn't it?) who specialised in giving my little boy high fives at this year's Indietracks. So do I.

But I also know her as the dancer in the video by the new single by The Mare, called 'I'm So Happy'. Cracking tune this, eh?

I especially like her Peter Crouch dance, don't you?

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Girl With the Replaceable Head

The Girl With the Replaceable Head (aka Sylvia) first came to my attention in 2002, when she/they released a near-perfect ep on the Bus Stop Label (which was in something of a rich vein of form at the time, I seem to recall) called 'Ride My Star'. "Three depressingly sublime songs to either slit your wrist to/fall in love with depending on your mood" reads my yellowing press release. It still sounds right my up street.

Indeed, I think my review at the time read: "As if Harper Lee were female fronted, but with the added twang of some country and western strumming."

Anyway, I mention this because I just came across Sylvia's myspace page, and there's what must be a relatively new song up there. So, Sylvia, if by the smallest chance you read this, are you still making music or what?

Download 'Ride My Star' here.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Elston comes alive

I'm not going to apologise for two Liberty Ship posts in a road, alright? I sent some questions via electronic mail across Nottingham (via outer space, or something) to Marc Elston. Fighting through his collection of guitars, here's what he said...

What have you been up to since The Liberty Ship ended?

Parenthood, mainly and loving it. Oh... and putting food on t'table and roof over us heads!

And why did the Liberty Ship end?

The band ended because of work relocations and big bad work commitments generally. Boring real life stuff that mature people in bands have to deal with. It's all so much easier in your teens and twenties... apart from the rabid egos.

What do you remember most about being in that band?

The gigs at the magnificent Junktion 7, the excitement at putting an album out on Matinee, hearing the songs become fully formed by the band, the easiness of our band relationships and enthusiasm. I was so lucky, I had the kudos of being in band as odd and unlimited as Johhny Domino and an outlet for the pop stuff I wrote in The Liberty Ship.

Does it surprise you that Bulldozer Crash are still such an influential band?

Were we? Are we? We had a great time making that music and if geography and other comintments allowed I'm sure Stephen and I would work together again. It's a shame we never managed more gigs or an expanded line-up. Bulldozer Crash was essentially a few weekends to produce those songs stretched over about 3 years.

There's been a real upsurge of interest in indiepop music over the last two or three years. Is this something you've beebn particularly aware of?

I would love to play the hipster and say yes but apart from your activities I'm way out of the loop. I WILL go to Indietracks next year, I have no excuse not to as it is just down the road. Do old people go? I must be younger than Mighty Mighty!

What are the chances of you and your brother getting together to make some music?

Well, we've just been on holiday in Normandy together but there was more time spent keeping the bambinos occupied. Graeme did teach me the chords to the Cbeebies 'Goodnight' song. Graeme has lots of music to finish off which will see the light one day. I'm going to whisper this but he is more talented than me and I don't really think I could offer anything that he can't do himself. I wish I'd given him The Liberty Ship stuff to produce as he would have done a much better job than me. You once said that one of our songs sounded like it was recorded under my bed which isn't far from the truth!

Indeed, are you still making music?

In a word no. There is no real regret in that at the moment as I don't have anything I really want to express. The Liberty Ship was a fertile period for songs and I'm really proud of some of them but you can't force it. By the end of The Liberty Ship I was not as happy with the songs for that reason. I would like to play some of those songs again with nice people. The problem with getting older is it is so hard to find people who fancy doing a bit of casual music, I can't commit to a regular weekly rehearsal and I don't want to play blues covers. Are there any forty-somethings with a working knowledge of the Go- Betweens back catalogue, an easy going temparament and guitar/bass/drumkit in the Nottingham area? Answers on a postcard.

Did you read Stephen's new issue of This Almighty Pop!?

I did and I've always admired Stephen's enthusiasm and punk rock ethic. He is still keeping the faith and he introduced me to a lot of great music.

Still listening to East Village and The La's, or have you any newer favourites?

I was never a big La's fan in spite of the band name. They were great live before the rot set in. Steve from Johnny Domino is my music pusher and I've loved the recent Field Music album, Grizzly Bear, the latest Hot Chip stuff, I like the Girls album. I'll always be a pop kid so I'll never abandon East Village, Primal Scream, The Weather Prophets - 12 string electric guitar still makes me deliriously happy.

And where will the great Liberty Ship 'Ten Years On' gig take place?

Somewhere nice and middle class like a big Gite in the Loire. Or Indietracks... hey, that's an idea!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The mighty 'Ship

It’s hard to comprehend these days when every Matinee release seems to be lauded to the heavens, that, once upon a time, releases on the label seemed to slip through the net, ignored, yet still meekly boasting a shining pop beauty that meant so much to the few who did realise their worth.

One such album is ‘Tide’ by The Liberty Ship. No doubt named after The La’s song of the same name, The Liberty Ship were local heroes of mine in the early 2000s. Their singer Marc Elston - a local teacher - had been in indiepop dynamoes Bulldozer Crash and was/is devilishly handsome. Backed up by Steve, Tim and Rachel (who I had a enormous crush on for a while, I seem to remember), The Liberty Ship made clever pop songs sound easy. The band’s debut single, 'I Guess You Didn’t See Her’ sounded like The Beatles playing an Orange Juice song. The follow-up, 'Northern Angel' was brassier, more confident and emerged around the same time as a treasured mini-album called 'Small Lives' on Sunday Records.

Press pause.

Nearly a year went by until “Tide” was released on Matinee. "Written and recorded in Nottingham" it shyly boasted on the sleevenotes, the album was mastered by Stephem Maughan. And yet, hampered by having to record the album at home, The Liberty Ship lost some of their momentum. But 'Tide' is a tiny masterpiece of a record. It soars and swoops and chimes and remembers to be subtle and sly and clever at all the right times. It’s also a straight-down-the-line pop record too, of course. It couldn’t really be anything else.

It all stopped after that. Rachel moved down to London (I think), and the band fell apart. I managed to arrange a few gigs in Nottingham for The Liberty Ship during their short-lived prime and they were mighty live. More powerful than on record, they flew above the rest of the bands on the bill. Like I said - they soared.

My favourite Liberty Ship song is 'Shine On'. You can download it here.