Over Bramble Bridge
'Pick a card, any card.... Wrong!' Yes, the Blue Aeroplanes begin my Summer of Pop 2001 tape with a song, 'Jacket Hangs' that once upon the time of its release I spat at for being the antithesis of what great Pop ought to be, for being the repulsive rock histrionics of a band who quite simply shouldn't do That Kind Of Thing. Listened to again some eleven years later it actually sounds rather ravishing. For the gricers out there, the single also housed a version of The Kinks' classic 'Big Sky' that of course didn't and still doesn't measure to the original in any way, but it was a grand idea I suppose and a fine reference point if nothing else. In addition there was a Rodney Allen song called 'Different Now' that I once loved to hate because I remember hearing the song sung in Rodney's bedroom and the recorded version just seemed to be too muddy and lacking poise by comparison. That and the fact that strangely the words were at least in part all about an ex-Miss Scotland Beauty Queen. Listened to anew however it sounds fine, and if it fails to incite the same passions in me that it once did, then maybe that's only a Good Thing.
The Strokes' 'Modern Age' is a fine rock tune that touches on the most obvious of New York New Wave reverence points as well as often as not sounding so much like Lou Reed it's no longer funny. Except of course it's quite hilarious. If I was 16 and had never heard the Velvets, the Ramones, the Voidoids or The Dead Boys I would love the Strokes to death. I'm not, I have, and consequently I don't, but 'Modern Age' does everything that great Pop singles should do and that's more than enough for anyone really.
Swell have their sixth album out at the moment and it's a telling fact to realise that it's another of the highest standard. It's strange to realise that Swell have been making albums for ten years because it still sounds like yesterday that 'At Long Last' needled its way deep into my psyche and for that I'm eternally grateful. On 'Someday Always Comes' Swell sound like they always have and I hope always will. Only even more so this time around. There are the trademark somnambulant grooves and the scratching, searching guitar clusters of course, and there is David Freel's trademark laconic 'couldn't give a shit' vocal delivery. Enormously under-rated, enormously wonderful. Everyone should own every one of the Swell records.
I first wrote about Tindersticks in the same fanzine as I first wrote about Swell, which makes me feel my age, and Tindersticks too have had a new album this year that would have passed me by if I hadn't chanced upon it in the record store. It serves me right for not reading the music press, and for not listening to the radio, but so be it. The new Tindersticks album feels like a step back after the strange soul stylings of Simple Pleasure but it sounds more like the Tindersticks used to and maybe that was the point. I don't know. Whatever, Can Our Love is full of the sorts of downbeat early mornings after late nights sounds that you need to accompany glasses of whisky and red wine, and 'Sweet Release' has lovely organs and strings and sounds just divine, slowing things down perfectly.
Appliance seem to be in an odd position these days, apparently falling between factions and ploughing their own odd direction. Neither trapped in the cul-de-sac of 'post-rock'/'krautrock' Wire reader nirvana, nor comfortable with the manufactured 'difficult' Rock mythology of Radiohead, Appliance are actually making a terrific Pop sound that blends a love of many sounds and styles and comes up smelling fresh and interesting. 'Nursery Slopes' from their Imperial Metric album is just such a confection of sounds and really Appliance should be on everyone's summer listening list in 2001.
Nice to see another Joy Division live album surface this year. The Les Baines Douches collection is a record of a remarkable, taught, dynamic pop group making one hell of a racket that connects with the heart like only the truly gifted can. I plumped for 'Shadowplay' on the tape for no other reason than it's always been a favourite Joy Division song, and because it lifts the pace in the most prefect way you could wish for. No more to add.
It may be obvious to follow 'Shadowplay' with the Aislers Set version of 'Walked In Line', but who cares. The more I play this the more I adore it; the more convinced I am that the Aislers Set really are the band that make the connections between all the finest dots in the Pop historical tapestry, and then join those dots together in a way that makes a mockery of the 'correct' sequences, and when the picture is complete rip it up anyway and burn the shreds. The Aislers Set sound like the greatest band in the world on this track, making their noise out of need and the genuine excitement of making that noise and you can ask for no more than that surely.
Similarly, White Stripes' 'I Fell In Love With A Girl' from their White Blood Cells album is a howling yelp of a dynamic bluespoppunknoise that has me all out of breath by the end of the first verse/chorus/however the hell you want to describe the structure of this song. Over before you want, you thank the lords of electronics for giving CD players the replay button.
It's probably too obvious to follow the White Stripes with more Strokes, but what the hell. 'New York City Cops' makes me think of that line in 'Venus' where Tom Verlaine remembers Richard Hell saying 'we could dress up us cops, just think of what we could do' and isn't that enough for anyone? It ought to be. Strokes sometimes leave me thinking that they try too hard but maybe its just jealousy that they have the guts to lose themselves in the heritage of a past they are too young to remember and if they have chosen to date to ignore the punk/disco interface of the New York era they ape, then perhaps we can look forward to a stranger future. Only time will tell.
Speaking of the punk/disco interface, didn't Scars do that to perfection in Edinburgh at the interface of the '70s and '80s? Scars main man Paul Research thankfully has resurfaced with the self-released 'Golden Gate Bridge' which is all helicopter drumbeats and fractured guitar shards and his trademark Edinburgh accent reciting lyrics through effects atop the whole mesh of marvellous, dynamically rhythmic noise. And really there's a dearth of disco (and jazz) on this year's summer collection, but such is life. I was listening to my Summer '99 compilation just the other day, and it was all hip hop beats, souljazz and electronica and although it sounded terrific, I had to admit it wasn't the noise of this summer and away it went back to the time capsule.
Scars of course first surfaced on the unbelievably hip Fast record label, which was also home to, amongst others, Fire Engines, who made as fractured a disco punk sensation as Scars and were about as commercially successful. Head Engine Davey Henderson has been recording under the Nectarine No 9 moniker these past eight years or so, and his Received, Transgressed and Transmitted album of earlier this year was as good as any of his previous records which, incidentally, were all full of terrific guitar meets samples and electronics pop of the highest calibre. 'Constellations Of A Vanity' from that newest album is as pure a Pop song as you could yearn to hear and is a fine way to end side one of my tape.
Side two kicks off with the kicking off our shoes magic of White Stripes' 'We Are Going To Be Friends' which is a delightful song about childhood friendships that just does the simplest of things so sweetly and succinctly. It's not cloying, it's not sentimental, it's just beautifully pure and honest and sounds for all the world like the Kinks and in fact White Stripes remind me of the Kinks more that any other group, so all this nonsense about being 'the MC2' or the Stooges can just be ignored thank you very much.
Moldy Peaches I already told you sound like a bunch of kids back in the middle of the '80s who spent all their time listening to old Pastels records, or even The Legend! These days I guess you could hurl Beat Happening and early Pavement into your mix and it would come out sounding fine of course. 'Lucky Number Nine' crops up on my tape if only because it's the album opener and because it hosts the eternally loveable line 'indie boys are neurotic.' Champion.
More Swell next, this time 'Feed', which drops in with a deadly deep sub bass and which, the more I hear it, makes me convinced that in point of fact, this Swell album (Everybody Wants to Know) is perhaps their finest to date, which is no mean feat. They sound muscular without being over-bearing, strung out without losing form. Majestic.
Do you remember the time when David McEntire was ubiquitous? It wasn't so very long ago. Well, he crops up again on the wonderful Rebecca Gates album Ruby Series, Gates of course being the voice behind the always excellent Spinanes. I've dropped 'The Seldom Scene' onto my summer collection because it's a seductive summer gem for afternoons in the garden beneath the shady tree. Full of acoustic bass, McEntire's shuffling Jazz rhythmic drums, the occasional vibe and of course Gate's wordly wise and weary voice. Beautiful.
Followed by a lost gem from Liverpool's Decembrists, who were a band that pre-dated the criminally undervalued Hellfire Sermons, whom may Tangents readers will recall with passionate delight. In fact it was essentially the Decembrists who recorded what ended up being the debut Sermons single ('Freak Storm'), and I've chosen their 'Tear Up This Town' because it's full of the classic chopping guitars that made the Sermons so wonderful, but also because the addition of a so far unidentified female vocal as counterpoint to Colin Pennington's astonishing Liverpool bark is a wonder.
I can't tell you how sad I was to hear that Augie March were not, after all, to visit the UK this summer for a handful of shows. Playing their astonishing records has of course been some recompense, and after much deliberation I've opted for the early 'Movie Mondays' for my summer sounds collection. 'Movie Mondays' is a wondrous tune that rises and falls like the ocean into which a wheelchair somewhat surreally rolls as the song progresses. It's all theatrical stuff, and in fact I made a vow that I would have my own Movie Mondays during this summer holiday but of course reckoned without the barren wastes offered by the Exeter movie houses which naturally made a mockery of my plans. So instead I play Augie March and imagine movies in my head.
Earlier this year Martin Phillips, erstwhile leader of New Zealand band The Chills released a triple CD of rare, unreleased, live and demo Chills songs and of course it was a treasure trove, The Chills being another of those cruelly under-appreciated bands who paved the way for the chart success of 'indie' bands, none of whom of course will ever come close to the melodic genius of Phillips' band. I've gone here for 'Stupid Way To Go' which is a typically jaunty Pop tune loaded with dark meaning, this time about Phillip's drug addiction, but really I could easily just have filled a C90 with a load of that triple CD collection and it would have sounded like pop perfection. That name again: Martin Phillips and The Chills. It's about time someone wrote a lengthy, glowing appraisal, surely?
Blue Aeroplanes' demo for 'Love Comes Round' sounds good too. It comes from the Weird Shit collection of out-takes, demos and associated other strangeness, which is how I like to think of Blue Aeroplanes and so naturally I like this album a great deal. Similarly, the Fruit album, which is a collection of live tracks from the early '80s to the end of the '90s and which is largely marvellous. 'Love Comes Round' is a fine tune, with Rodney Allen, Angelo Bruschini and Alex Lee strumming madly on their acoustic guitars and providing sweet backing vocals in counterpoint to Gerard Langley's gruffness.
I mentioned the Bronze single that appeared this summer on Bus Stop in a previous article, and shall say no more here except to say that 'In The Presence Of Greatness' is the song that has run through my head more than any other during the past weeks' cycle rides to the depths of the Devon countryside under the afternoon sun. And in case you didn't realise it, few greater recommendations for Pop songs will fall from my lips than that.
Similarly, I wrote all that needs to be written about the new Animals That Swim album already. I've put 'Mackies Wake' on my summer tape because it sounds like how I feel cresting the hill at Pitt Farm and seeing the world cupped in the valley below me, pausing before dropping downhill into Thorverton and back to earth. Storming.
Change of pace and style once again, and back to Paul Research, with 'Don't Point That Thing At Me' which sounds like a dream visit back to the 1980s; a sci-fi, Jeff Noon type trip with stalactites dripping in the cave of your mind. A splendid surreal slide into darkness.
And then naturally its back to White Stripes for the penultimate number, and 'Suzy Lee' from their The White Stripes album, because of course Suzy is the character from 'We're Going To Be Friends' and I'm a sucker for those kinds of connections. In contrast to the light of 'Fiends' however, this is a blues riddled, bloodied shirt sleeve of a song. A late at night gin soaking my carpet type of song.
Aislers Set, 'The Walk' closes my summer collection simply because... well simply because. Because it sways in the way that endings really ought. Because I tremble and fall every time I hear Amy sing those lines 'pretty soon you're going to have to blow your cover, kid.' with that breath just poised so perfectly so.
And so ends another Summer compilation tape. Played to death for a few weeks and then dropped into the box of tapes that sits in the dark recesses of the attic, to be rescued, perhaps, to accompany a drive to school in the depths of November just to remind me that there really was a time in the year when I had the time to compile such things, and perhaps too a reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
© Alistair Fitchett 2001