A Tinkled Ivory and a Twinkling Cymbal

Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow? Who wishes it was shining right now? Of course the nature of this interweb thing means that the chances are that for lots of you reading this the answer will be, duh, the sun IS shining right now, and to those people I say that I am jealous as hell. Because I do love the sun, and I do wish it was shining right now. Can't say the fact that it makes plants grow excites me much, although I'm certainly glad that it does.

Thank goodness for music then, which, when it's dull and grey out can somehow light up your soul and your heart with just a strummed guitar, a tinkled ivory and a twinkling cymbal. So it goes with The Lucksmiths.

The Lucksmiths make me smile, The Lucksmiths let the sunlight creep from behind the clouds and guide it streaming through the windows, catching the cigarette smoke curling through the room. So it goes this morning (except for the cigarette smoke), as The Lucksmiths three track 'Midweek Midmorning' single (Matinee) spins inside the CD player, radiating its rays of pale yelloworangered and cornflower blue like Jack Kirby motion lines.

Ditto for the Guild League who of course feature various Lucksmiths as well as members of Sodastream, Poundsign, The Fairways, The Aislers Set, Red Raku, Art of Fighting, The Killjoys, and Blackeyed Susans. Lucksmiths' Tali White deals with all the lead vocals on the Private Transport album (Matinee), as indeed he did on the superfine 'Jet Set Go' single that I raved about a while back. The album delivers magnificently on the hopes raised by that single, and really is a gem of a record that swings, sashays and skips through grey urban streets pricked with the hope of Spring, and which, particularly with its eloquent bursts of horn and keyboard recalls the kind of coolly sophisticated Pop made by Vic Godard around the time of, say T.R.O.U.B.L.E. Or, since Tali White's voice is so much more Bert Jansch than Frank Siantra, how about The Guild League as a strange cross-hemisphere Pentangle, and indeed a song like 'The Photographer', with its wonderful lolling bass softly lights up the skies in much the same way 'Light Flight' does every time I hear it. Private Transport is a gorgeous album that holds an enviable arsenal of talent and texture, and is certainly one of the delights of the year so far.

Speaking of the Aislers Set (as I was in relation to the Guild League - please pay attention), it's always good news to have a new record by this troupe of San Franciscans, although anyone looking for more of the ultra-Pop punch of their previous The Last Match may be disappointed by How I Learned To Write Backwards (Suicide Squeeze). For sure there's still traces of Shop Assistants-esque fuzzy indiepunkpop here, notably on 'Languor On The Balcony', but it's given much less prominence than previously, and instead the overall feeling of the album is one that is more complex, maybe more 'adult' if you'll excuse the use of that dreaded word in an idiom where 'youth' is seen to be all powerful and important. But being adult or mature needn't mean being dull, just as utilising elements of the past needn't be empty revisionism. So whilst Aislers Set do still capture marvellously the amphetamine, impetuous rush of (eternal) adolescence, on this album they now more than often conjure a more monotone scene, with Amy Linton cast in the role of torch-song chanteuse for wayward outsiders. So it is that songs like 'Emotional Levy', 'Sara's Song', 'Melody Not Malaise' and more than anything the sparse and delicate 'Unfinished Painting' have me imagining Amy in some '40s night club (perhaps the Blue Dahlia), standing under a spotlight with Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer propping up the bar with a whisky and a smoking cigarette. Those shadows are sharp and deeply dark, redolently cinematic, as indeed is 'Mission Bells', which as I've mentioned previously (and will do again because the imagery is just too good to pass up) inhabits the space populated by Lee Van Cleef, circling buzzards, and Loredana Nusciak with her hair piled high and dress cut low.

This album isn't about instant gratification. It's a record that gives out most of its treasure over time and repeated listening, and it marks the Aislers Set out as one of the most mature and interesting Pop groups of their generation. Ignore them at your peril.

Skipping back to Matinee now for Melodie Group, who in updownaround offer up a couple of the kind of minor chord miracles we've come to expect from Windmills singer-songwriter Roy Thirwall. Stripped of the rest of the band that makes the Windmills sound so special, Thirwall here sounds more experimental, as though he is treating Melodie Group as a sketchbook where he is free to scribble and rough out ideas that may be no more than intriguing asides, diverting doodles. So it sounds with tracks like 'Inner Space 1971' which plays with some strange wah-wah effects to no great effect, or the throwaway sub-minute 'Butterfly:Tart' which flits by and leaves no impression. As is often the way with sketchbooks though, there are some real treasures, notably in the gently trembling 'Bathtub Full of Water' and the album closing 'Summerness' which, as I said once before is a gem of understatement, a restrained cascade of sparkler dims on the prairies. Sadly, however, I'm not convinced that updownaround is altogether worth sifting through for those few treasures. Better to seek out the 'Summerness' (also on Matinee) single and focus on the sublime beauty of the Windmills instead.

More Matinee singles to track down would be the recent releases by Kosmonaut and The Liberty Ship. Kosmonaut offer us the delicious 'Desert Song' and 'Bee Song', both of which glint like silver strings in the Mojave, whilst The Liberty Ship deliver a pleasant Hurrah! / East Village homage with 'I Guess You Didn't See Her' (the sleeve too seems to be a clear blend of Hurrah!s 'Who'd Have Thought' and East Village's 'Back Between Places' but then I'm probably reading too much into it) and then in another display of impeccable taste, manage a very fine cover of Gene Clark's classic 'She Don't Care About Time'. This version is more in step with the Byrds' rendition (or indeed The Cryan Shames' or McCarthy's) than the slower, more countrified version that Clark served up on his wonderful Roadmaster album, and that's just fine of course.

Also just fine is another slab of 7" vinyl, this time emanating from the tasty Fortuna Pop stable. Small Music is a five tracker from Homescience, a gaggle of Edinburgh / Leeds youth who conspire to make the tremulous blend of noise you would expect from anyone in love with the treasures of the likes of the Beach Boys, Pavement, Neutral Milk Hotel, toy instruments and the marvellously pure simplicity of home recording. All of which means that Homescience are a gloriously ramshackle proposition guaranteed to leave you all of a tremble, and thank goodness for that.

Thank goodness too for the enigmatic Andy Hitchcock, who some readers may recognise as the voice behind the wonderful Pop-Punk-Noise of Action Painting! Andy breaks cover with a strange clear vinyl 7" bearing the name Persons that is alternately full of distorted guitars, demented drum machines and soulful caterwauling ('The Credo'), or muffled ambience, wobblingly melodic keyboards and backward vocals ('More Ear'). One side not unlike hearing the sounds of Comet Gain played by the underground dwellers of New York, the other akin to listening to the Aphex Twin on a portable radio in a Lynchian Red Room. All packed up in a sealable plastic bag with a photocopied sleeve, this is a rare peculiar treasure. Email petrocks@hotmail.com for details of how to get hold of a copy. I dream that one day all records will be made this way.

© 2003 Alistair Fitchett