Kisses In The Sunset Trees

Have I told you recently how much I love The Hidden Cameras?

In case I haven't, there's a new Rough Trade single to let me make the point again. Lead track ´A Miracle' is hot off the, how do they say it, ´critically acclaimed', Smell of Our Own album and is of course a magnificent pearl of Pop wisdom; a beacon of Hope, Faith and Love in the face of darkness. Never was a single more aptly titled. Not that the other two tracks are exactly lacking, of course. ´The Dying Galatian', like ´Fear of ´Zine Failure' on the ´ban Marriage' single, once more immediately makes me think of New Zealand's wonderful Bats. It's the way the violins cajole and carouse in a gentle way, and the manner in which the whole thing sort of pulses softly; the sound of a heart beating on your sleeve, no less. Closing track ´A Heavy Flow Of Evil' is similarly magically seductive; folk music made by artists who treasure their Barthes more than wood whittling. Plus they have great badges that show a little red birthday cake with the words ´evil evil' on the side... what more do you need?

Okay, so did every pre-teen in the 1970s look the same, or what? Because the sleeve for Meets Guitar's six song 7' EP for Becalmed has a photo on the front that looks terrifyingly like my older brother circa 1974, leaping unfeasibly high in the air with what I bet is an attempt at an ace ´hi-karate' move. Meanwhile on the back there's another photo that looks suspiciously like yours truly around the same era. Certainly the haircut is identical, although if truth be told I was always a great deal more gaunt than whoever this young chap is. And my father, I'm pleased to note, never sported a beard, and to the best of my knowledge never carried an OS map hooked over the leather strap of his camera case. And really, these photos set the scene perfectly for what is a glorious faded Polaroid of a record, the six songs all blending seamlessly into an evocation of times lost to the tide of age and the encroachment of grey. It's typically all beautiful guitars strummed and picked; Deebank soft on an acoustic under the July Skies, or Ben Watt strolling by the riverside at the end of the season. These songs are soundtracks to fragments of past moments you cant yet quite dredge out, or to events that will sink in your memory, noticed only on the occasional lowest tide when the sun sets just so.

A similar tone is set by Gravenhurt's ´the diver' EP on For Us records. A taster for the Flashlight Seasons LP, the three tracks here are very tasty indeed, with Gravenhurst coming off like an acoustic Codeine gently nudged into a blinking woken state, or Simon and Garfunkel on a mogadon down. There's also hints of Trembling Blue Stars, or at the very least of The Field Mice at their most stripped back and bare, like those tracks on the flip of the ´Missing The Moon' 12' that were delicious counterpoints to the electronic magic of the a-side. All of which means of course that if you're not already tracking down a copy then you are either blind or stupid. Or skint. (And I'm not even entertaining the thought that you are Into Rock)
Also treading that path of strumming splendour are the Foxgloves, who have a picture of Roland Barthes on the cover of their ´Lives you didn't lead' EP (Foxyboy records). Foxgloves are a perfectly formed duo comprising Stevie Trousse (who the more well informed amongst you will recognise as the purveyor of fine fanzine Papercuts) and Joe Brooker (who will of course be recognised as being one half of the peerless Pines) and together they sport the lyrical wit and wisdom of Stephin Merritt and the musical bent of Lloyd Cole. Oh, and they do a rather peachy cover of ´I know very well how I got my name', originally done by some dodgy old geezer who used to be in the Smiths.

The Boy Most Likely To is either one of the greatest names for a Pop group ever, or yet another tiresome example of indie under-achievement, depending on mood and time of the year. Today it feels like the former, particularly since on ´Paper cuts' they come across as a fine example of jangled no-fi guitar-electronica in the vein of the likes of Sukpatch or the Autocollants. On flipside ´sleeping with a gun under my pillow' they throw in the Brian Wilson angle, and it's pretty jaunty too; melodic Pop with a rusty razorblade lodged in its teeth. Comes with one of those great ´manifesto' inserts too, and whilst for an old codger like me lines like ´pop music can be intelligent, and thoughtful, and experimental and political. And beautiful.' are blown in on the breeze of nostalgia, at least its nice to know that some people still feel that strongly. Limited run of 300 copies, so get yours whilst they're still hot.
A hastily scribbled scrap of paper says, simply: 'you will like this. You will write about this. It will save your day.' The note wraps around a seven inch single on Break and Enter by Sweden's Action Biker and it's such a great note that I was tempted to just put the record in a box and frame the note. Or at the very least stick it on my classroom wall. I'm glad I didn't though (just put the record in a box, I mean; I may yet frame the note...), because it's a terrific throwaway piece of electro-Pop that dreams of being back in 1982 and dancing to the Human League down the school disco. Or maybe the turn of the millennium, laid out on the tennis courts in the summer sun and listening to Baxendale. Lead track ´Sandy Edwards' is also in the Swedish Pop tradition of Club 8 or Red Sleeping Beauty, and of course that's no bad thing. It's one of those songs that feels like it's stuck in a perpetual chorus, and that's fine too, although who the hell Sandy Edwards is, was or might be is beyond me. Flipside ´Wrong Side' meanwhile is the one that really does it for me, conjuring memories of the mythic April Showers or of Strawberry Switchblade at their slowed down peak, like the peerless ´Who Knows What Love Is'. Typical reference points, of course, but who needs to go rummaging around for new comparisons when all you need to know is right there in front of you?

And did it save my day? Well, maybe not (hey, it was a pretty good day already you know - nice spot of coffee in town, three minutes knocked off my previous fastest time around my local 30K quick-ride route), but it certainly didn't make it worse, which is more than can be said for a lot of what passes for Pop these days does. Oh, and of course I want to stick an ! after Action Biking. You know, as in Action Biking! Like Action Painting! Or Hurrah! Which reminds me of something Matt Haynes once said about every label needing a group with an ! in their name. I guess we're still waiting for the Shinkansen one... although maybe we could just reinvent Cody as Cody! Hmmm, no, maybe not. That would be as silly as Trembling Blue Stars! Just doesn't suit the music, does it? And there is no punctuation mark for kisses in the sunset trees, is there?

Speaking of Cody, and of those Field Mice circa ´Missing The Moon', as I was just a moment ago, there's not a little of that particular sound in the new five track ´Club Life' EP on Matinee by Simpatico. This is bittersweet technoPop with beats and bleeps that make you move, topped off by guitar lines and seeping synth strings that pirouette in cornflower skies. Lovely.
Also on Matinee is the ´Northern Angel' single by The Liberty Ship. It would appear that the title track is about Antony Gormley's monumental Angle of the North sculpture, which is something of a shame because personally I'm not a fan, either of Gormley's work in general, or the Angel in particular. I think it's ugly and uninspiring. It's just as well then that the Liberty Ship's personal paean to the sculpture is anything but, being instead all Dylan harmonicas and Windmilling minor chord guitar chimes. This song soars and sweeps whilst Gormley's steel just sits there rusting.

Last of a fine Matinee trilogy of singles (I'm conveniently ignoring a significantly less than average offering from Pale Sunday) is a blast from the vaults of the mid 1980s. The label follow up their magnificent R is for Razorcuts retrospective with a five tracker that kicks off with the Cremola-Foam froth of ´A Is For Alphabet'. Joining it on the EP are cuts variously found previously on singles from Caff and Flying Nun, of which it would be unwise not to pick out ´First Day' and ´For Always' for particular attention. ´First Day' is a lush fragment of baroque jangle, a perfect example of where Buzzcocks met Montage, whilst EP closer ´For Always' is a 1985 demo that shows just how important the TV Personalities were as an over-arching influence on those times. This EP is as essential as anything you'll find this year or any. If the sound of Razorcuts doesn't move you then you're already dead.

And finally, just to prove it's not all whimsy around these parts, there's a rather splendidly splenetic single on Gringo records by Seachange. Two tracks, of which the oddly titled lead cut ´Avsco10' is a terrific blast that reminds me of no less than the Wolfhounds in their later years, whilst ´Learn to Lose' is a minute and twenty of siren guitars and threshing machines. It sounds kind of like Crackerbash to these ears, and gee, I haven't thought of them in years. Turn it up and turn your head inside out.

© 2003 Alistair Fitchett