Singles Going Steady

Corny name for a column, I know, but what the hell. I've had the Buzzcocks going relentlessly on the stereo for a while now, and as a result I just couldn't resist. Blame Sethe Jordan.

Anyway, let's kick off with some 7"s from the Johnny Kane stable that are about as far removed from the Buzzcocks sound as you can get. Windermere based Johnny Kane records have been quietly putting out quiet delights for three years now. They started the ball rolling with the exquisite Clientele classic 'All the Dust and Glass'/'Reflections After Jane'. With that single as pretty much a blueprint for the sound of Johnny Kane, there have followed a clutch of releases, each one vying for the title of 'shimmering pastoral suburban delight of the year'. Or something.

Most recent contenders are singles by Glider and Meets Guitar, both of which feature the restrained genius of Billy Mahonie guitarist Gavin Baker. The Glider single also stars Pascal Asselin of Canadian band Kazumi FX, and although the two have never met, in 'Constante Degradation' and 'the time for order' they've collaborated to create two monumentally magnificent pieces of jazz inflected instrumentals full of early morning smoke and mirrors.

The Meets Guitar single is Gavin Baker alone, and he turns in two more beautiful performances. 'The Great Slip' is an acoustic sidle down tree-lined lanes to the ocean, the guitar as sharp and clean as the sun reflecting off the fishing boats in the bay. 'Burning Of The Leaves' meanwhile is a gem of scratchy suburban folk, in Bakers' own words a 'ritualistic cleansing of past events and their effects' and the closing line of 'the less you remember, the more secure you shall be' is as great a closing line as you'll find anywhere. The more so for the knowledge that such a feeling is true only for a while, and that in spite of all attempts to lose your memories, they will return some day to knaw at your soul. It's a great note too on which to end the Johnny Kane odyssey of seven seven inch singles. Long may the memories linger.

Similar ground is tread by the Becalmed label, who recently dispatched a package of delights to my door. Most intriguing is a 10" by Gaston, who turn in a clutch of taught instrumentals that groove in the way those early Tortoise sides grooved. Full of supple bass lines, dynamic drums and almost awkward lopes out in diverse directions, Gaston are a herd of deer moving wildly across heather strewn hillsides.

Other delights from Becalmed include a brittle 7" by My Little Problem which is all acoustic bedsit melancholia looked at through a broken monochrome kaleidoscope, and 'November Kicks In Again' by Lorna, which sounds exactly as you think it ought. With a restrained mild psychedlia, Lorna weave a lush autumnal tapestry that slips through your fingers with the ease of silken clouds. And then there's that man Gavin Baker again, cropping up here as a member of Jet Johnson, whose 'Mr Bones'/'Canada Song' 7" is yet another minor marvel of suburban light and shadow.

Yet more of this soft suburban pop is offered up by Acuarela on the 'Love That Will Guide You Back Home' EP by Edinburgh's Zephyrs. Brothers Stuart and David Nichol apparently drew inspiration from a childhood spent hearing their dad playing country albums on the stereo, and certainly there's a country tint on these four understated songs of floating beauty. Like Antony Harding's July Skies, The Zephyrs have a similar love of the phased layers of sound made by the likes of Slowdive, and make a similarly pastoral psychedelia. With input from the likes of Sean O' Hagan, Mojave 3's Rachel Goswell and Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite, The Zephyrs have crafted an EP of rare grace and beauty that is utterly essential.

Also on Acuarela is another four track EP, this time 'Un Cuerpo Extrano' by Emak Bakia. According to the press release, Emak Bakia is an almost untranslatable Basque expression, which seems appropriate because this EP is similarly hard to pin down. There's echoes here of Barry Adamson soundtracks, of dub spaces, post-rock dynamics, Third Eye Foundation beat experimentation and Rachels' strings sketching out lovely melodies, all topped off with the throaty vocals of Abel Hernandez (Migala) and the rawness of Thalia Zedek (Piano Magic). There's also cathedrals of reverberating noise, snatches of radio seeping through the cracks in the steeple and rhythmic exuberance. Full of intrigue and controlled abandon, Emak Bakia are certainly a name worth looking out for.

Back in the UK and over on Fortuna Pop we find Mick Travis, who surely have one of the coolest monikers in pop at the moment, being named of course after the protagonist of the If, Oh, Lucky Man and Brittania Hospital movie trilogy. On 'Up From The Minors' and the particularly fine 'Yvonne' this Mick Travis turn in a couple of country tinged tunes that bristle with a mediated Americana that's vaguely unsettling. Especially on 'Up From The Minors' which has a wilting English indieboy vocal singing about Babe Ruth and reminiscing about 1920s baseball. Weird, but strangely wonderful.

Similarly strange but even more wonderful is the debut release by Manchester based Dead Digital records. With hand stencilled labels, Dead Digital offer us a split 7" by Pulby and Primitive Painter. Pulby profer 'Water From Different Falls' and come up with a sound that's right out of the early '80s Mute catalogue, like Fad Gadget or the Normal, but with extra reedy guitars on top etching out a terrific insistent melody. Think also early Thomas Leer and you'd be getting close. Whatever, this makes me want to keep lifting the needle back to the start and play it all day long. The only reason I don't is because the flip side by Primitive Painter is every bit as good. I have no idea if the name is a Felt reference or not. Certainly it doesn't sound anything like Felt although you might say it bristles with their spirit, being a shivering glance backwards going forwards. With a dismembered vocal insisting it's 'happy to let the body do the talking' over an electro backing track that sounds like it escaped from 1988, this is magical Acid House for bedroom and attic dance floors. Already one of my favourites singles of the year, I await future developments from both these acts with as close to rabid excitement as I can still muster at my age.

Rabid excitement also surrounds the release of the new St Etienne single. 'Action' is yet another priceless Etienne moment, and if there's any justice in the world it will crash right into the top of the charts and stay there 'til Christmas. 'Action' is a punk rock single, from St Etienne's most punk rock album to date (sleeve notes by Mark Perry, in case you doubted their credentials), and it moves me damn near to tears. It's a tale of one of those moments in our elliptical lives when we return to the fire and wonder of when we knew we were in the presence of That Feeling. So to hear Sarah Cracknell sing 'I've been searching for all the people I used to turn to, all the people who knew the answer - let's get the feeling again' is to hear those memories crashing inside and stirring up a wondrous cacophony of melody and magic, whilst words like 'need to make it special, need to make it new' are pure Dexys and are loaded with enough pathos and power to make me want to climb out the window and shout a million and one 'yeses' at the sun. And the fact that it sounds more S Club 7 than Sex Pistols is of course a bonus.

More classic pop is turned in by Marc Carroll, whose 'Crashpad Number' is a kind of 'Manic Monday' for today. Which is in fact a Tuesday, but what the hell. And really it isn't like 'Manic Monday' at all, except when the chorus crashes in, but that's what pop is all about of course; choruses and tunes you have to hum all day for a week. Which 'Crashpad Number' certainly is all about. A taster for the uplifting powerpoprock that is his Ten Of Swords album, 'Crashpad Number' deserves to be airing from radios and stereos the land over, soundtracking the end of summer with a grand gesture of sunshining melody and energy.

Speaking of sunshine, I guess that Sweden's Free Loan Investments like it a lot. On their 'Ever Been To Mexico?' EP for Shelflife/wiaiwya they offer up six short (only one clocks in at over two minutes, and that's only two and a half) stabs of what they wish were Tallulah Gosh or Tiger Trap-esque Summer Pop. Sadly, they're not, mostly because they forgot to add the great tunes (hand-claps and 'ah ah's' are most assuredly in place, however). At least it's all over quickly. Also on Shelflife and somewhat better are Churchbuilder who would like to wow us with their indie-electro. It's almost there, too, with the rather fine opener 'Microdancer' and the almost lovely 'New Critics' showing off vocals by Erin Carracher and Denise Grollmus that at times approach the lower slopes of the heights achieved by the likes of Sunset Gun. It's not quite enough, however, and Churchbuilder suffer from a lack of focus and tunes that leaves them currently short a campanile.

© Alistair Fitchett 2002

Johnny Kane singles available mail order at 3.50 (UK, presumably) from Po Box 52, Windermere, LA23 2YB. Cheques etc to J. Hyde. Or go
Primitive Painter / Pulby 7" is available for 2.50 (UK) / 3.50 (Europe) and 4.50 (ROW) from Dead Digital, PO Box 94, Manchester, M19 3WY. Or go to
Free Loan Investments and Churchbuilder on Shelflife at
Emak Bakia and The Zephyrs on Acuarela.
Becalmed Records are at
Marc Carroll's 'Crashpad Number' is out soon on Evangeline records
St Etienne 'Action' comes out on two CDs on August 26th. Mantra records.