More Coffee and Cookies
sorting through stuff

It seems like these days I'm getting constantly swamped by stuff. It just seems to appear, to accumulate in this room as though it's all secretly breeding at night. Stuff multiplying itself into yet more stuff: books, CDs, magazines, piles of press releases and assorted other pieces of paper that I never seem to get chance to look at properly. There's a pile of Art magazines that I bought at the start of the Christmas holidays that have barely been flicked through, and there's a clutch of books I picked up last half term in London that have gathered dust for the past seven weeks and which I admit I'd forgotten all about until I dumped two new purchases (Matthew Baylis' mildly diverting Last of the Ealing Comedies - actually good reading for sitting in the sun these past few days - and Bella Bathhurst's Surprise - which, surprise, I haven't managed to open yet) on top of the pile.

So all this stuff, it needs to be sifted. And that's the afternoon's task. After a fresh pot of coffee and a plate of cookies, of course.

First off the pile are The Sonnets. I don't know where the bit of paper that came with this four tracker disappeared to so can tell you little about the Sonnets aside from the fact that they come from Sweden, are on Dead Frog records and that they sound really rather ravishing in a ´lets make some sunshining indiepop' disposable kind of way. Music for May Day road trips to the beach and refusing to take your jacket off when you get there. Which is fair enough by me.

Doesn't Sweden have some kind of scheme where pop groups can get government funding for making records and touring and all that kind of what have you? Crazy Scandinavians. Anyway, it kind of explains all the pop groups that seem to bubble up from over there, like The State of Samuel, with their Mutiny on Mercury record on the Strings Of Nashville label. I kind of like The State of Samuel, not least because they kick off with a song called ´Forgotten Algebra Take Off' and because they often sound like a ramshackle reincarnation of an early Small Factory, which is something I'm always going to go gooey over. Plus they don't outstay their welcome and cram seventeen tracks into a fraction over twenty five minutes, which is the way most people should make albums if they did but know it. If they even call them ´albums' that is, and I know I've had this thought before so I'll shut up and have another mug of coffee.
Still on the subject of Small Factory, there's Pesky. Pesky aren't Swedish. I think they're American, and they do sound resoundingly American in that they sound like an America of college radio DJs who regularly log-in to the indiepop list. That's if the indiepop list even exists anymore. Hmmm. Okay, let's get to the point here: Pesky just ARE Small Factory circa ´I Do Not Love You'. They even have a line that goes ´this is like 1992'. So there you go. Oh, and they cover early Magnetic Fields songs ´Candy' (the gorgeous paean to the infamous Ms Darling) and ´No One Will Ever Love You' which gives you another idea of where they're coming from. Apparently you can download the raw tracks from their website, allowing you to remix them to your own taste. I havent tried this myself. Maybe you can make them sound less like Small Factory? Although maybe you wouldnt want to, of course.

More Swedes are next in the pile, but they sound nothing like Small Factory and are coming at this whole Pop shebang from a different angle entirely. So instead of guitars that daydream of being a Spangle left over from 1986, we have electronics and beats that have nightmares at the thought that the mid to late ´90s passion for eclectic collisions was just a fashion movement. The Friendly Noise label know it wasn't of course, and on their Friendly People Making Noise compilation collect thirteen tracks that blip, oscillate, shake, rattle and coolly groove like it was, I dunno, 1998 or whenever it was that I found myself drifting away from this kind of thing. Listening to the likes of Paddington DC's terrific ´Little Variations' I wonder why on earth I did lose interest. ´Little Variations' is a resoundingly brilliant eight minute gem that sounds like a weird collision between Neutral Milk Hotel, Kraftwerk and Clinic. I want to hear more of Paddington DC. I'd also like to hear more of Robotboy, whose trembling ´nuclear romantics' is the fleeting ghost of early Magnetic Fields drifting in a field of cornflowers, and The Embassy, whose ´E6' is a delicious spiral groove with cherry blossom falling through the gaps, glinting silverblueandgreen in the afternoon light. Friendly People Making Noise is a great collection of quirky electronic ExperimentalPop that you ought to track down at once.
Speaking of quirky experimental Pop, what about the Passage? Back at the end of the ´70s and the start of the ´80s when, lets face it, everyone seemed to be picking up synths and blending electronics with the Punk DIY ethic, The Passage were doing it all better than most. They had the experimental ethos of Cabaret Voltaire, the politik idealism of The Fall and the tunes of The Buzzcocks. So why aren't they better known? Don't ask me. I don't remember them either, although I know I should, and perhaps would have if my head hadn't been so full of Pevsner at the time. Which is also a lie, but who's caring anyway? I really only knew the Passage from their fleeting appearance on the legendary Pillows and Prayers Cherry Red sampler. The Passage contribution was the astounding ´xoyo', a Pop thrill guaranteed to make you smile from ear to ear. It was fab.

Hats off then to the ever wonderful LTM for giving us all of the Passage albums reissued on CD with a load of extra-tracks to keep all the old(er than me) punters who remember them first time around happy. Every one a winner, although if push came to shove I'd personally be plumping for their second album For All And More, if only for the classic ´Shave Your Head' (also available as an extra track on the CD of their debut Pindrop) and the 7' version of the wonderful ´Troops Out' (album version available, again, on Pindrop). I'd also opt for their third album, Degenerates, because it opens with ´xoyo' and sports another nine similarly charming treasures of skewed technopop. Forget the National Strategy for Literacy and Numeracy, there should be a National Strategy for Pop Awareness, and the Passage should be in it.

Also on LTM is Too Crazy Cowboys by Thick Pigeon. I don't remember Thick Pigeon, who recorded this album for Factory back in 1984, although I do remember their singer Stanton Miranda. I remember that her ´Wheels Over Indian Trails' single (included here) was on a scrappy taped-off-the-radio compilation that was my constant companion in the spring of 1986, lighting up the sky as I rode miles over distant hills. It's good to hear it again.

Others will know much more than I about Miranda's connections with the New York scene (including links to Sonic Youth), will know about the soundtrack work since made by her Thick Pigeon collaborator Carter Burwell (Being John Malkovich and a host of Coen brothers titles to name but a few). More yet should do themselves a favour and check this album out forthwith.
Still in the realms of off-centre electropop, it's good to be able to once again mention another one of my favourite labels of recent years, the ever splendid Dead Digital. This time around they've given us a four track EP by Pulby, who offer a mesmerising out of focus landscape of pulsating neons, tail-light vapour trails and moonlit parks with lost souls laid on roundabouts spinning slowly, gazing with glazed eyes at spiralling solar systems. Like Clinic soaking in the afterglow of PiL and what they used to call Acid House, Pulby reach for the stars whilst resolutely tapping their toes on the dancefloor. What's more, they reach them too.

Inhabiting similar space to Pulby are Black Moth Super Rainbow, who have emerged resplendently from the cocoon left by the very wonderful satanstompingcaterpillars. Those of you who've been paying attention will know that in the past couple of years I've been somewhat enamoured of the ´caterpillars two collections (2001's the autumn kaleidoscope got changed and last years' the most wonderfulest thing) and I'm glad to report that as Black Moth Super Rainbow they are continuing to make off-beam marvels that elude categorisation. There's actually a couple of tracks from those aforementioned albums on the new Falling Through A Field collection, rubbing antenna with new recordings such as ´season for blooming' and ´your doppelganger' which sound as I'd have wanted the last Boards of Canada album to sound, and in fact if pushed to pin down BMSR I'd be pitching in with the comment that really BMSR are everything that Boards of Canada nearly are, or were, or might have been if they'd perhaps left things in a rougher state, had been disinclined to tidy the corners and buff the surfaces. And really, all it needs for BMSR to become as hip as BOC is for someone like Warp to pick up on their back catalogue and get the mythology machine into action. Until that happens though, I'll be playing Falling Through A Field on repeat for weeks to come and telling anyone who cares to listen that Black Moth Super Rainbow have made one of the most treasured albums of the year.

I fell in love with Meets Guitar via a lovely Johnny Kane 7' single, so I was only too happy to find a copy of a three track CD in my post recently. Part of Italian label Homesleep's singles club, this three tracker moves on from the pared back suburban folk of the Kane single into the realms of traditional Welsh folk (a take on ´Felton Lonnin') and gloomy Red House Painters-esque beauty (´Meantime'). For anyone familiar with the Meets Guitar conspirators other work in Billy Mahonie this will come as no surprise, and it's a lovely diversion that any devotee of the likes of Songs:Ohia or Will Oldham ought to investigate pronto.
I first came across R.P.M. Quigley on his 1995 ´A Kind Of Loving' EP. At the time I was deeply into drum'n'bass and wrote it off as the kind of post-Sarah whimsy I could well do without in my life. As a result I've never really much bothered myself with his affairs since, being aware only vaguely that he's a part of the Montgolfier Brothers, an act that have over the past few years turned in some well received records for Vespertine and Poptones. Not that I've heard them of course. Not knowing then what the Montgolfier Brothers sound like, I have no idea whether Quigley's project At Swim Two Birds (named, as I'm sure you don't need me to tell you, after the fine Flan O'Brian novel) sounds like them or not. All I know is that the Quigley's Point album (Vespertine and Son) sounds beguiling and really rather beautiful. Think Deebank guitar, lilting Lilac Time vocals, Talk Talk textures, July Skies ghostly ambience, Durutti Column delicacy, Jim O'Rourke roped in dynamic. Think a gorgeous late night / early morning stroll through the park, up the sycamore lined avenue to the station with Julie Christie's sadly shaking head glimpsed in the carriage as the train pulls out and away. Think the bay arcing away on the left, the single light of Lady Isle blinking in your eye, a thumb circling once on the back of your hand and a voice you never knew existed telling you it's four in the morning and time to go home forevermore.

There's a similar mood cast by Fortdax's Folly (Tugboat), wherein Darren Durham creates a terrific contemporary psych gem, full of oscillating melodic bleeps and oceanic textures that weave wonderful patterns in the sky. These are psychedelic moments that are always under some kind of control, never meandering meaninglessly and never hanging around after they ought to have gone home. Cementing the psych-connections (but leaping off on a tangent to mad drug-addled wig-outs one might expect) Cotton Casino of Acid Mothers Temple guests on a trio of songs here, best of which must be the astonishing ´Sakura', which is a minimal marvel where simple beats underpin soft electronics blending with what sounds like peculiar traditional instruments found laying around the world's stage being blown, strummed, tapped, poked up the nose, however the hell you play them, gently dropping in on top, and all of it caressing Cotton Casino's gently lilting voice laying down a sweet melody in Japanese. Music for mornings, music of peace, love and understanding.
Hints of mild psychedelia also filter through History's First Know It All by The Caribbean (Endearing / Tomlab). Stretching out from their lovely eponymous 1999 release and 2001's Verse by Verse, The Caribbean now straddle the kind of ground inhabited by the Blue Nile, Jim O'Rourke, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chico Hamilton, Gary Burton, Weegee, The Sweet Smell of Success and The Go-Betweens whilst being bathed in the afterglow of assorted soft-pop luminaries like The Moon, The Association or Sagittarius. Sounds kind of special, huh? Well History's First Know It All is kind of special, meandering as it does through a variety of reference points, mirroring perhaps in part the manner in which it came to fruition via conspiratorial emails and exchanged audio files flying between Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD and Naples, FL. So that whilst it's all over the place, it's never all over the place, instead hangs together with a strange, gawky awkward beauty, like Scarlett Johansson serving bagels.

More like Steve Strange serving liquorice sticks are Polystar, who have an odd ´wishing it was the early ´80s' shtick. Polystar sound like they hang out in retro ´80s diners that play Depeche Mode and A Flock Of Seagulls on repeat, watching old Duran Duran videos and John Hughes movies on the TV. Which might be a gorgeous dream or a hideous nightmare, depending on what side of bed you got out of.

Rock Stone, on the other hand, inhabit a land where Denim's Denim On Ice was hailed as a classic of contemporary style, wit and wisdom instead of a slice of retro rubbish that was consigned to the rubbish tip of culture. Admittedly I did the latter when I first heard it back in whatever the hell year that was, but again, I had tons of breakbeat records by the likes of Optical and No-U-Turn to keep me busy, so you can see why I might have taken that stance. Of course in hindsight I was wrong, and Denim On Ice has forged a niche in my heart as one of my favourite Lawrence albums. As a result I'm more than willing to give Rock Stone a break, and happy to recommend their two 7's. Besides which, they have a link to Achewood on their links page. Always a sign of good taste.

Speaking of good taste, it's surely about time to replenish that pot of coffee and dig out the cookies. Time to distribute this pile of stuff into the shelves at the back of the room and make room for more.

Alistair Fitchett