The Suburbs Are Killing Us
It feels like forever since I wrote anything. It isn’t true of course; it’s just been forever since I wrote anything about what I’ve been listening to. Nevertheless, I’ve been feeling paralysed by the piles of CDs that seem to grow almost organically in the Geek Lair, like stalagmites of silver plastic and shiny coloured paper. Still, what can you do but begin to chip away at the layers?

I have to start with My Favorite if only because you have to love a band with the nerve to call themselves that. And true to form, for the past couple of weeks at least My Favorite have lived up to their name. Their Happiest Days of Our Lives set has been on repeat play, particularly during kitchen sessions, when it has been glued to the portable stereo. Of course most people are most likely way ahead of me with regards My Favorite and in all likelihood already clutch the three EPs that make up the main body of this set close to their hearts. It’s no reason not to pick up the collection, however, as there are several previously unreleased cuts of note, not least the utterly compelling and addictive opening title track. ‘The Happiest Days Of Our Lives’ is magical Pop that does all the things magical Pop ought to do. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry; it makes you want to drink your past into the gutter, it makes you want to dance your cares away into the night; it has lines you want to scrawl on the cover of your English jotter and use as your MSN screen name, and in my book you don’t get more vitally Pop than that. No siree.

Of course it’s probably no surprise that My Favorite remind me of some of my most treasured Pop acts. Of course as I’ve said innumerable times in the past this is the curse of the music journalist, but regardless, when I stick my head in the envelope of sound that My Favorite conjure I can’t help but see circuitous lines that draw themselves around the likes of Magnetic Fields, Orchestral Manoeuvres, New Order, The Wake. Once upon a time too I can imagine My Favorite being on the legendary Sarah label. There’s the shimmer and shiver of Blueboy, the ambiguous sexual ache of The Field Mice. At other times too they make me think of the spirit of the Wild Swans. It’s in the way that My Favorite aren’t scared to reach higher into the skies to grasp at constellations most groups don’t even imagine might exist. Like Wild Swans, My Favorite aren’t afraid to dream of stranger and wilder tomorrows.

And as if that weren’t enough, there is also CD of remixes included in the set that throws in terrific dancefloor filling re-enactments by the likes of Flowchart, Soviet and Future Bible Heroes. And still you want more? Okay, so how about an awesome comic book by Dave Kirsch that illustrates some of Michael Grace Jr’s literate lyrics? These kinds of details are important. Remember, it’s all about so much more than just music.

I see My Favorite as characters in a Michael Chabon or Jonathan Lethem story, wrapped up in references and suggestive nods of approval to a multitude of sartorial choices. I see My Favorite as smartly educated urbane souls relishing a decaying decadence, dancing around the embers of fires lost in the back alleys of Pop history. I see My Favorite as the saviours of my belief in magic. For this week, at least, and who can ever ask for more than that?
More bearers of the flame have come recently in the familiar form of the Playwrights, courtesy of their Guy Debord Is Really Dead EP on Sink and Stove. By rights I should have written about this EP months ago, and it’s to my eternal shame that I didn’t. Better late than never, however, and if you were to pick up one single that marked out the heights of British independence in 2004 for your Christmas stocking shopping list, then this should be at least close to the top. Got a chum who won’t let up about how great Dogs Dies In Hot Cars are? Get them a copy of this EP (and whilst you’re about it, a copy of their Unpopular 7” ­ still to my mind the bands’ peak, even though I know I would say that) and give them some education.

‘Revolution in everyday life is all that matters now’ sings Aaron Dewey on the title track, and if ever there was a time for the return of this kind of smart intellectual Pop attack then surely it is now? The Playwrights cut through the crap to embrace the past and the future in a cacophony of restrained love and hate; The Playwrights summon the ghosts of Situationists but allow them their head ­ no post-ironic gesturing allowed here ­ in a glorious dance macabre of Modern Art politics. The Playwrights are monstrously modernist in the truest sense; naturally capturing the contradictions of contemporary existence: both in thrall to and disgusted by the world they see risen around them.

Key track for me though is not the lead cut, but rather the brilliant ‘Bridge Burning Co-operative’ which bristles with awkward shapes thrown in sharp relief, atop which a trumpet drops shards of electric colour. Of course it might be the inspired choice of 3/4 time, but this track reminds me of no less than the mighty Hellfire Sermons, and if that reference is one that leaves you wondering, then get the hell out of here and track down the utterly essential Hymns: Ancient and Modern retrospective on Bus Stop. Then come back to The Playwrights and climb to the top of towers the land over to proclaim them the genius Pop agitators they most assuredly are.
Naturally though The Playwrights still remind me most of the peerless Wolfhounds, and I make no apologies for mentioning them one more time. Not least because I’ve been reminded of the genius of that gang of East London popnoiseniks courtesy of a series of CDRs that document some of their magnificent live shows from the latter half of the 1980s. It’s all thanks to the work of former Wolfhound and now Trad Arr member Andy Golding and his Fuzzy Noise label. Now of course live recordings seldom capture the essence of the moment (proof if you needed it that music is about much more than the music), so whilst this set of four CDRs doesn’t communicate the sheer unbridled edgy magnificence of the Wolfhounds live experience, it does at least show what a brilliantly dynamic sounding group they were. From an early ’86 show in Brixton where the band show where those early comparisons to The Fall came from (their cover of The Seeds’ ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ also reminds us of the importance of those old garage punk nuggets to so many of that generations’ ‘underground’ bands), to a 1990 recording from ‘somewhere’ when they had progressed to the sonic ice shelves of Blown Away, these sets are essential artefacts for anyone interested in the archaeology of 1980s independent Pop and rock.

It still surprises me, though, that the Wolfhounds are not more of a household name, even amongst Indie circles. It’s not as though the bands members went into total obscurity: Dave Callahan enjoyed success immediately post-‘Hounds with Moonshake; Matt Deighton found favour with Paul Weller and played in Oasis; Martin Stebbing went to Chicago and found fame as a name producer, working with the likes of R Kelly and The Fresh Prince. Yet still the name of the Wolfhounds rarely crops up it seems. Perhaps they were just too awkward and awry to ever fit into the cosy picture of the history of ‘indie’ that the media likes to paint (their omission from the Rough Trade ‘Indiepop’ collection feels like treason to me), or perhaps their angular and difficult Pop aesthetic was just too far ahead of its time. Perhaps too they were from the wrong place at the wrong time; had they been young Americans at the start of the ‘90s, for example, I can’t help thinking they might have been called Pavement. And don't forget that the Melody Maker once called them 'the British Sonic Youth'.

Whatever, The Wolfhounds are still one of those groups whose place in history is there for the finding. Their back catalogue deserves a thorough salvage effort, but for now these live CDRs are more than welcome reminders that there are still genuine treasures from the past out there to be unearthed.

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett