Yesterday Once More
Many years ago now at the end of the ‘80s I wanted to start a club. I had got bored with messing around with the vagaries of live groups. “Oh were we supposed to bring a drum kit?” That sort of thing gets tiresome. Someone playing lots of records and expressing their self that way sounded a lot more fun. And one idea I had was to put together an A-Z flyer, where for each letter of the alphabet I would have a few names to show how wonderfully eclectic my club would be. So for A there would be A Certain Ratio, The Action, Horace Andy, Alternative TV. For B there would be Big Youth, Maxine Brown, Bush Tetras, Buzzcocks. And so on.

So on to Z. Which is where I began to struggle. I had the Zombies of course. But ZZ Hill would’ve been cheating. Then Zapp came to the rescue, and added a nice funky touch, but then what? Now if I had been as cool as I thought I was I would have been out there spinning my Zouzou 45s. But it’s only with the exquisite Vogue edition of her frustratingly slim collection of recordings released this year that I have seen the light.

And yes the set features Broadcast’s broadcast favourite 'Tu Fais Partie Du Passe', which sounds superbly like Broadcast. And as I am sure it was for the very great Broadcast, discovering dancer, model, actress, singer/songwriter, icon, is a treat for anyone unable to resist the experimental edge of the gorgeous gallic pop of the ‘60s. In an immaculate set Vogue has collated the half a dozen Zouzou and Jacques Dutronc collaborations from ‘66/’67 and even better her interpretation or adaptation of Donovan’s 'Young Girl Blues'. For those that want to know more there is a great website dedicated to Zouzou out there, and the promise of films and books to come.

Allied to the Zouzou discovery, I have to confess to my very unwholesome obsession with the post-Vogue recordings of Francoise Hardy. Is there a more gorgeous record than the 1971 La Question set? Or how wonderful are her Beverly Martyn interpretations on 'If You Listen'? And that Neil Young cover! And that cover!

One record that is at times almost as gorgeous as La Question is the sort of in a similar vein Savath & Savalas set Apropa’t. Now I bought the last S&S record because it was on Warp and called Folk Songs For Trains, Trees and Honey. Which sort of struck a chord with me. And it sounded like Tortoise a wee bit after lots of other people tried to do a Tortoise thing. But S&S did the Tortoise thing really nicely. And we later learnt how S&S was Scott Herren who went on to make exquisitely fragmented r’n’b/electronic hip hop mosaics as Prefuse 73.

And with his sidestep back as S&S he really reveals himself to be one of the great pop figures of our time. Based in Barcelona, he has produced an exceptional set of Catalan/Latin flavoured ballads underpinned by crackling electronica, with Eva Puyuelo Muns’ singing sounding exquisitely intimate.

Then interestingly it features John Herndon on drums and John McEntire on the mix, as once nearly all good records did, so the Tortoise thing keeps running through. And indeed one of the things Paul Morley does get right in his Words And Music is that for a moment Tortoise (and the allied Sea & Cake) looked like they might change the musical landscape for ever. I would argue that with explorers and magicians like Scott Herren out there the landscape has subtly changed forever, which must at least in part be due to people like John McEntire and Sam Prekop. And the romantic in me is really hoping the forthcoming Tortoise return is as spectacular as it could be. It’s been a long time after all.

It looks like this could be a great year for beautiful records. I absolutely adore the Electrelane Power Out set too. I have to confess to not knowing their previous excursions, but this new one is lovely. I am not the first to say its austerity is charming, and gives it a timeless flavour. Whoever put the group in with Steve Albini out in Chicago knew what they were doing. There is so much space here, and it works. He works magic here as he did with Ut's Griller many years ago, and indeed Electrelane are the missing link between Ut and Wendy & Bonnie. Whatever that means. I like the fact the sound is occasionally flat and vulnerable. I like the sparseness. I love the guitars niggling away. I think this is a special record, up there with other current favourites Slumber Party and Mr Airplane.

And predictably I love the audacious arrangement on standout track 'The Valleys', and the erudite literary references. It combines two of my loves: poems set to pop music, and choral settings in pop. I can’t stop playing this, and applaud the ambition. Hey, it’s almost as great as The Carpenters, my other unhealthy obsession at the moment! And when Karen sings, I hear angels’ wings.

So a good start to the year, and today the Weird War CD, If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Bite ‘Em, arrived to add to the fun. Weird War being the latest outing by the wonderfully strange Svenonius/Michelle Mae team. And it may even be stranger than last year’s excursion as the Scene Creamers. But this week’s been strange enough as it is without trying to work out where Weird War are at. But I will!

© 2004John Carney