Time Please, Gents
I have never much liked the festive season. It always seems to get in the way of the world, and I find it so hard not to sink into a pit of laziness and excess. These days the excess is solely to do with eating like crap for two weeks, but thatís nothing to be proud of, is it? No it isnít. So with a bulging waistline and a back seizing up from too many hours spent laid on a sofa or perched in front of a computer screen doing nothing much aside from pottering around on websites and playing games, I find myself attempting to set things right once again. So a New Years new start a couple of days early, and before I head out on my bicycle for an hour and half of desperate furrowed brow, muttered oaths and sore legs, a chance to catch up on more music that somehow passed me by these past few weeks and months.

Firstly, thereís the Guild Leagueís great Inner North set on Matinee. How on earth did I ever pass over this for so long? Itís criminal. And itís not as though it was one of those things that sits in the unplayed pile for an age simply because I donít recognise the name. Oh no indeed; I knew the name The Guild League so very well having loved their first Private Transport collection of course, and the thought of a new record featuring the sublime tones of the Lucksmithsí canny crooner Tali White should surely have had me ripping open the jewel box and slipping the disc into the stereo with fevered anticipation, yes? Well, yes, dammit. It should. That it didnít is a source of more brow furrowing, though truth be told Iím also rather pleased it somehow slipped through the net, to be rescued as one of those end of season gems that light up the globe as nights slip like inky fingers down the page of the year.

You probably know already that the first Guild League record was made by Tali and 16 mates from around the world. It was a joyously exuberant Pop album. Inner North sees the group trimmed more than a little; now essentially comprising Tali, drummer Marty Brown, guitarist Rodrigo Pintos-Lopez and cellist Cressida Griffith. The result is a record that breathes with a marvellous spaciousness; a record that focuses its attention on telling beautiful downbeat tales of suburban Melbourne meanderings and musings with a hushed clarity that soothes those brows and (un)settles hearts. Not that itís slow-core feeling sorry for itself nonsense, no-siree: songs skip a scuffed sneaker along cliff paths and swoon into the sunrise; they daydream of fingers brushing in the dark of cinema seats and they hide in the corner of attics to shed tears at years gone by and opportunities forgotten.

Inner North is one of those slow-burning records that return again and again to leave their melodies haunting your reveries. I canít think of many others I would rather have to usher out the old and beckon in the new.
Except maybe the ace Language Of Flowers debut Songs About You set on Shelflife. Once again I should have been raving about this months ago. God knows it was spinning on the stereo enough, was accompanying me on many Sunday morning vacuuming sessions courtesy of my trusty and scratched iPod (and you have no idea how long I prevaricated over actually typing those four letters after reading an end of year review in some newspaper at my parents and seeing it name dropped innumerable times. It was kind of sickening). But yeah, Language Of Flowers. I admit that when I first slung this on I was sceptical as all hell. More breathy girly vocals dreaming of Amelia Fletcher, over an indiepowerpopping racket of ramshackle guitars and drums made from cake tinsÖ Ďdonít you people have any imagination?í wailed my grumpy old man persona. Thankfully, however, I then recalled how such things never made Tiger Trap any less delicious, and the soul of my popkid self promptly delivered a sound kicking to the aforementioned grumpy old git. Or as sound a kicking as a fey popkid can ever administer.

Songs About You is a glorious dedication at the altar of Pop, is an album utterly in thrall to the very essence of what it means to be young (at heart) and tripping over yourself as you rush headlong into the wall of sounds that mean the world. Itís a gloriously self-knowing record too, in all the most natural and contradictorily naÔve of ways, full of songs that celebrate all the joys of Pop creation and consumption. Itís the sound of Pop besotted with itself, the sound of Pop delighted to be in its own company and not staring off somewhere into the distance, dreaming of what it might be if it ever grew up (the answer to which, of course, is too dreary to even contemplate). Language Of Flowers are sitting under cornflower skies and feeling the breath of promised dreams brush your cheek. Language of Flowers are the tingle of crushed petals, the wonder of plastecine noses passing in corridors, the delicate rush of a heart cracking at the sight of a smile from another century.

Also on Shelflife is the If It Shines, We Have It set by Norwegian duo Kawaii. Made in their kitchen (hence the title and the rather fine sleeve of silhouetted kitchen utensils) with a handful of electronics and toy instruments, Kawaii make a quirky and quaint electro indiepop that sounds like an echo of an early Magnetic Fields covering Pipas songs fed through a radio playing old Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Sweet and simple.

So what else has been spinning on the stereo? Well in a dart back in time, thereís been the sound of young Perth, supplied courtesy of the Egg restoration series. From Perth, Scotland thereís the Magazine 1986 - 1988 set by the very marvellous This Poison! Now I remember how at the time some cruelly passed the band off as Wedding Present copyists, but I always thought that kind of missed the point. Sure, they were signed to the Wedding Presentís Reception label and they played their guitars fast and frantic. Sure their songs were short, sharp sweet blasts of adrenaline rush, but that was a GOOD thing, right? Damn right. And anyway, played again now the most obvious comparison I can think to draw is to their peers The Bodines, with shades of The Close Lobsters lurking in the background. Their two singles, ĎEngine Failureí and ĎPoised Over The Pause Buttoní (featured on the recent Indiepop 1 collection by Rough Trade Shops) were a minute and 38 seconds and two minutes and 38 seconds long respectively, but channelled more youthful exuberance into that time than you would find in a lifetime of House Of Love records (to pluck an example randomly from the air). This CD collects those singles plus another bunch of tracks together to make a 14 cut set that at a shade over a half hour never outstays its welcome. Thatís the magic of Pop music for you.
As for the other Perth band, well step forward Australiaís The Palisades and their A Month Too Soon. Collecting tracks from 1985 - 1989, this set has introduced me to a band about whom I knew nothing at the time. Listening now, nearly 20 years after the fact, I hear the sound of a group very much of their time. Thereís echoes of Felt in their Pop mode (think Forever Breathes The Lonely Word) and a hint of the milder psychedelics of compatriots The Church, and whilst it never adds to up to more than the sum of its parts, itís nevertheless a neat period piece.

Much more than a diverting period piece is the LTM release of the glorious A Selection Of Songs set by The French Impressionists. A key element in the whole Postcard Sound of Young Scotland, the legendary French Impressionists recordings collected here have long been sought after by discerning fans of the aforementioned label and its associated connections. Sporting such luminaries as Paul Quinn, Roddy Frame and Campbell Owens in their changing lineups, The French Impressionists were essentially a group driven by songwriter and pianist Malcolm Fisher, and they fitted perfectly into the early Ď80s scene that embraced the sound of Radio 2. With a jazz tinged pop in the vein of Weekend and Vic Godardís swing set, The French Impressionists were poised for a moment to really break through. Most of their released output featured the distinctive voice of Louise Ness, and those tracks of course are terrific, but for me the interest is in the demos cut in early 1982 featuring Beatrice Colin. Itís great to hear the April Showersí singerís voice again, and if you donít know why, then really you havenít been paying attention. Now I didnít know that she was also in a group called Pale Fire, so if anyone can furnish me with more details on that venture I would be forever in their debt. For now, this French Impressionists set is up there playing alongside those fantastic Cristina reissues, and believe me, that makes for a mighty fine sound indeed.

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett