Sensational Summer Smash
San Francisco is a beautiful city. Beautiful buildings, parks and people. Beautiful Pop music. Two of my favourite Pop bands of the moment come from San Francisco and I'm sure that's no coincidence. Aislers Set you know about of course and if you don't the question is simply 'why not?' Their Last Match set of last year has garnered all sorts of praise from people much more important and influential than me, and if you don't have it nestling in your collection yet, then the question once again is merely 'why not?' A 7" single (hey! remember those?) surfaced in early summer that sported a new recording of the runaway Punk Pop charge of 'The Red Door' and 'The Red Door' is of course a Sensational Summer Smash that should be blaring from the open windows of every fifteen year old in the city (hey, pick a city, ANY city) instead of the Linkin Park which they seem to largely prefer. But who said life was fair and just? The single also includes the very wonderful 'Summers Reprise' and a live rendition of the Girls At Our Best forgotten classic 'Warm Girls', which is as fine a reference point as you might want. The single is available with a fine architectural drawing by Amy on the sleeve from Slumberland Records in the USA and the fine people at Fortuna Pop in the UK. And speaking of reference points and the Aislers Set, their session for the John Peel radio show earlier this year was a typically marvellous triumph, peaking for some with a cover of Joy Division's 'Walked In Line' which led to Peel suggesting that he would have said he preferred it to the original if not for the fact that it would cause too many expression of outrage. Of course like the best of cover versions Aislers Set made the song their own instead of attempting some kind of scary reverential treatment and it was a joy to hear someone play Joy Division with a sense of delight and excited energy instead of the dreary gloom the myths insist upon. Other highlights from the session were 'The Walk', the ace 'Long Division' from their debut LP Terrible Things Happen (and which had me digging the album out and digging it all over again and remembering that it really is a record that perfectly balances a fragile sense of poignant awe of the world with a hey ho lets go Punk spirit and in fact that's the Aislers Set all over) and 'Mission Bells' with it's great horns and keyboards in a lovely latino swing and the irony of course was that at the time the Aislers Set were wowing audiences in the UK and recording that very session I was down on Mission Street buying a signed Richard Hell micro-book. Which somehow fits, just don't ask me how.
Attentive readers are now thinking 'okay. So that's one of your favourite groups of the moment, who is the second?' And the answer is The Fairways, and in fact that should be no surprise really because the Fairways sport the very wonderful Jen Cohen who attends to organ duties with the Aislers Set, and in fact Amy also appears on the Fairways' Is Everything All Right album (Paris Caramel Records) singing backing vocals on the opener 'A Song For Jenny', which is a prime example of the sound the Fairways make, which is of course a soft and seductive Pop that sounds like summer evenings by the beach or on the hills away from everyone, with the sun setting and, well... you get the pictures. The Fairways make music for sensitive souls lost in reveries about chances missed and kisses perfectly placed on a forehead. The Fairways are clutching a book to your heart and inhaling the perfume left on the pages. The Fairways are the sweet regrets that rise as the perfume fades and all that remains is the memory, and the book sits on the shelf and there's that moment held forever in your head and in your heart.
The Fairways make reference to many great Pop groups of the past and the present and the future, which is the way of the world these days of course. Casting around for names I pull from the hat (today) The Field Mice, The Orchids and The Housemartins at their melodic best. And yes, Belle and Sebastian if you must, but clearly only Belle and Sebastian at their finest which is to say in fact not like Belle and Sebastian at all but more the spirit of the early Belle and Sebastian, which was an eternal flame of light cast by a dream that lives on in the Fairways and for that we should be thankful.
The Fairways of course released a single some time ago on the very wonderful Matinee label, a label dedicated to unearthing both new bands and on breathing new life into long ignored marvels from the past. So in the latter vein we had the recent release of 'Train Song' by Remember Fun who were a fine gang of Glasgow lads made most infamous perhaps for their 'Hey Hey Hate' which graced one of the semi-mythic Sha-La-La label flexi discs. Remember Fun had a fine line in scathing social and political lyrics wrapped in deceptively sweet tunes, and they were one of many groups who drew inspiration from the Postcard scene of the early '80s. Like seeing their peers The Visitors at last gain recognition (through their Miss collection also released by Matinee), it's rewarding, if somewhat odd, to have a 'new' CD with the name Remember Fun on the sleeve, and if I have to say that I still prefer the older demo version of 'Train Song' to the released one, well that's perhaps just me being elitist. Or perhaps isn't... Now all we need is for someone to release those Church Grims demos on CD.
Somewhat straddling the two Matinee goals of unearthing the new and rediscovering the old are Slipside, who release the four track 'Four Day Weekend' EP on the label. Slipside is the new band of Graeme Elston, who once fronted the Love Parade, whose first two singles surfaced on the A Turntable Friend label in the early '90s. And in fact A Turntable Friend also released the sole single by Hope, a band that flew from the ashes of The Visitors, and was the label who kept faith in The Claim, releasing their final single. And in fact too that incarnation of The Claim also featured a one time Visitor in Jon Cleary. The Slipside single is a fine example of what I guess some would call still call indiepop, and each of the four songs are lovely slices of Pop that recall early Beloved (circa 'A Hundred Words'), Johnny Dangerously and, oh, any one of a hundred unheard of singers and bands. Fine stuff.
In similar territory to the Matinee label might be the Bus Stop label, and in fact Bus Stop have been steadily releasing records for pretty much as long as I can remember, starting with, as far as I can recall, their releasing of singles such as the Springfields' 'Sunflower' in the USA at the same time as the fledgling Sarah label did in the UK. Bus Stop have released some excellent records, not least the very wonderful 'Throw Me Out A Line' by Erik Voeks which remains a firm favourite round these parts, and of course a four track Claim 7". The most recent Bus Stop release however, is the 'Presence Of Greatness' 7" by Bronze, with Bronze being the new band of one Paul Handyside who was of course part of the semi-mythic Hurrah! Lots of other people can write about the history of Hurrah! much better than I can, but suffice it to say that the legend of Hurrah! is based on the release of a clutch of singles and memories of performances before the middle of the 1980's, and that their subsequent album releases (Tell God I'm Here and Hallelujah) did much to soil the legend. But no matter. For those that cared, Hurrah! made triumphant Pop records to treasure, and in 'Presence of Greatness' and 'How Long', Handyside has at least in part revisited the glory of those times. Bronze come close to doing what the secret sacred Hurrah! once managed, which is to take a big universal sound and make it intimate. It's no mean feat.
On a totally different tack now, I ought to point out that when in the past I feigned indifference about hearing either the Strokes or White Lines, I was in fact lying. And having now heard both I have to say that if (and it's a bigger If than many of you realise) I were to be involved in the school yard argument projected by Kevin recently, I'd be firmly on the side of White Stripes, possibly only for the reason that they called an album De Stijl but possibly also for the fact that their noise seems more rooted in the very essence of the NEEDS inherent in raw rock'n'roll and less in some pursuit of a mythic cool. Which makes them so much cooler, of course. Lots of others can write about White Stripes and their heritage and connections much better than I can and that's just fine, because all I really care about are the facts that White Stripes have made records which are primal Rock marvels squealing, yelping, rampaging, diving and soaring in ways that connect with a world that collapses and reaffirms itself in sharp intakes of breath. And if I prefer those earlier De Stijl styled angular plastic dynamics to the more straight ahead rocking of White Blood Cells, then so be it.
If White Stripes embody some kind of return to an immersion in a primal rock'n'roll essence that in previous lives you might have found in The Troggs, The Count V, Them, The Voidoids or Slant 6, then Turin Brakes must be some kind of sad echo of safe, calculated Rock like, oh I don't know, like the Eagles at their dreariest. So many people have told me that I would like Turin Brakes, and I've always wanted to believe them. But I can't. I listen to the new single 'Mind Over Money' (Source Records) and am instantly irritated by the would-be-grand intentions it seems to broadcast. There's a sense of trying so hard to be universal that it all crumbles to the ground in a dusty, forgettable mess. Turin Brakes, like Travis and a host of others I don't dare to consider, are the kind of Indie Rock tedium that serious boys who seldom smile love. They should listen instead to Moldy Peaches, who have them sussed in the first line of their excellent eponymous album for Rough Trade when they tell us deadpan that 'Indie boys are neurotic'.
The irony here is that until recently Moldy Peaches would have been the darlings of boys and girls who would have delighted in calling themselves Indiekids. Strangely (strange for someone as old as me, but bloody obvious for the kids themselves) these days that's not the case, because in a time when 'Indie' has been co-opted by the mainstream as a means of selling middle of the road rock with the illusion of being an 'alternative' (alternative to what is never made entirely clear) then new genres have to be invented, or perhaps re-claimed and revisited. So with Moldy Peaches we have a kind of lo-fi revision, a journey back to the days when Beat Happening were being born, before The Pastels sang about trucks and trains and tractors, when it was cool to do the naiveté thing and tell anyone who would listen (roughly 1000 at any one time, judging by the usual print and pressing runs of the singles/fanzines...) that this was Punk Rock. And of course it was. And it still is. Moldy Peaches are Punk Rock.
Naturally too, this being the time it currently is, Moldy Peaches have a sense of history and a sense of humour, and know that making this kind of Punk Rock is essentially a documentation OF making this kind of Punk Rock, is essentially a documentation of the worlds you grow through when you are, erm, making this kind of Punk Rock. All of which means that for someone like me, Moldy Peaches are a refreshing blast of air that restores some faith in the fact that there are people out there who are travelling stranger paths than most, whilst for anyone who is young enough to respond with a big ? to my mention of Beat Happening or Pastels, then Moldy Peaches will probably sound startlingly new and peculiar and just the sort of odd individuals to place some sort of obsessive faith in. And either reaction if fine.
And speaking of strange, lets close with a round of applause for Birmingham's The Bee Men, whose four track 'Braindrop' 7" (self-released, check out the beemen website for details) is full of odd collisions that conjure notions that this could all be a long lost soundtrack to some warped '60s Psych movie where the characters wander around in Kasbahs looking for the spirit of, well, the spirit of something no-one really knows the name of, only that it's probably dressed in a Paisley shirt and Chelsea boots. With a mop top haircut and a pair of pink tinted spectacles. Perhaps like the Television Personalities looking for Syd Barrett if Syd lived in Istanbul and they roped in a bunch of itinerant gypsy musicians to help in the search... and then again perhaps not. Bloody odd regardless.
© Alistair Fitchett