Sharp As Lemonade
Every day in summer I check the wind direction. It’s an important thing to do. Not only does it largely determine which route I will use for my bike rides, it also decides whether or not it’s going to be even vaguely possible to work in the Geek Lair. Anything less than a southerly wind, and there’s not a chance of getting anything done. It gets to be like a sauna by mid morning, and try as I might I just cannot quite manage to work whilst sitting on the sofa downstairs. I don’t know how Carrie does it. Sofas are for laying out on with comic books and TV, after all…

This morning however, the wind is breezing gently in from the south, which means an afternoon ride out towards Dartmoor and up by the reservoirs, and a morning trying to get through that by now familiar pile of things I really ought to write about. Kicking off then with the sounds of Midlake, whose bamnan and silvercork debut on Bella Union has been playing a lot here these past weeks. Out of Denton, Texas, Midlake make a shimmering psych-soft-pop built upon foundations of quirky analogue electronics, coming off kind of like Stereolab or early Tortoise if they’d grown up in suburbs or satellite towns instead of in their respective cities. Languorous and liquid, bamnan and silvercork drifts by like a river of mercury, reflecting cornflower blue and zinnia yellow: custom built for lazy summer afternoons laid on the grass by the reservoir, talking to the fabulous clouds that go scudding in their Baudelaire trajectories. Naturally, magically fragile and freaky.

In similar soft-pop inspired vein is the Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company set by The Flower Machine (microindie records). Eschewing the quirky electronics of Midlake for the rather more ‘trad’ elements of guitars, The Flower Machine are clearly in thrall to the whole late ‘60s West Coast scene, and make indiepop infused with the ghosts of the likes of Love, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield… you know the score by now surely. Sure, it’s never going to set the world on fire, but it’s a lovely distraction for a while, and isn’t that one of the most vital elements of Pop?

From West coast to East now, with the terrific Bad People Rule The World album by Major Matt Mason USA (Shoeshine records). The Major, of course, was the name of a series of sci-fi toys marketed in the US in the ‘60s around the time of the first manned moon shots, or alternatively is the moniker of half of NYC’s great anti-folk duo Schwervon! whose Quick Frozen Small Yellow Cracker set was a hit around these parts last year. This solo set is, if anything, even better, being filled with a batch of songs that uniformly connect and swirl around inside your head for days. It’s all quirky downbeat observations on life, a kind of skewed confessional where what’s made up is possibly more valuable than what isn’t; it feels like it’s as much about the playfulness of inner searching and creativity as the honesty of sharing personal experience. Highlights today would be ‘Good(bye)’, which is a charming duet with Schwervon! partner, the very wonderful Nan Turner, and ‘Tower Song’, whose refrain of ‘five dollars an hour, 4.21 at Tower’ has been lodged in my head for days. Oh, and ‘I Love Stevie Nicks’ if only for the neat title. Lovely cover art by Nan too.

I don’t know if you could call M. J. Hibbert and the Validators anti-folk… In fact I don’t know that you could call M. J. Hibbert and the Validators anything that would make a great deal of sense, because as a rule they tend not to make a great deal of it themselves. This is clearly something to celebrate. And having said that they make no sense, in truth they’ll make all the sense in the world to all the natural outsiders of the world. This is music for those bed and bar room scholars, the ones knocking back a swift half with one eye on the football scores and the other on their copy of Socialist Worker. Perhaps. Certainly their Shed Anthems (is it a mini-album? An EP?) gives you seven tracks in the spirit of Half Man Half Biscuit and George Formby. But without the banjo. Or the annoying voice. Key track to understanding this rabble might be ‘let the weird band win’, a wonderful tribute to the woeful ‘battle of the bands’ contests that are always won by the drearily competent Blues or Punk band and never, I guess, by the likes of M. J. Hibbert and the Validators. Not that I’d know you understand, never having condemned myself to experiencing such a nightmarish event, but I can imagine… Also wonderful is ‘billy jones is dead’, a paean to those days of nostalgic sadness when you cast your mind back and recall, well, those days of imagining futures that never work out. Recalling the literate ramshackle genius of early Animals That Swim, M. J. Hibbert and the Validators are the kind of quirky English group we ought to clutch to our collective bosom, or alternatively buy a pint. I suspect they would prefer the latter.
Now, I’ve been enjoying the releases on Track and Field of late. The Of Montreal and Loves sets were particularly great, so I was looking forward to hearing Dressy Bessy’s eponymous album. Shame then to report that it’s not much more than generic fuzzy indiepop with a fascination for the ‘60s aesthetic. Nothing I’ve not heard loads of times in the past, and will no doubt hear loads of times in the future, it’s the kind of record you pluck one track from to punctuate one summer mix tape and then forget forever. Today I’d choose ‘Georgie Blue’ because it’s kind of slow and slopes along the high street in a paisley shirt, kicking dirt in the eyes of strangers.

Better by far is the earlynorthamerican set on Upper Class records by girlsareshort. Now, I came across this bunch via three tracks on the We Owe You Nothing sampler, and I’m delighted to report that this album delivers on all the promise from those cuts, and more… This is the sound of truly magical upbeat Summer Pop that dreams of diamond studded sequencers and acid tinged techno parties peopled by characters from the covers of those RPM girl group collections. And the weird thing is that although girlsareshort sound like some magnificently strange technopopgirlgroop it’s actually two guys with occasional vocal duties by a range of drop ins from heaven… There are way too many highlights to deal with here, earlynorthamerican being the kind of record you grapple with for ages trying to decide which track to add to that summer mix tape, and so end up making ten different mixes so you can do the record justice (and hey, because you don’t want to break the one track from each artist rule, do you?). But today, I go for ‘Mississauga Theme’ for its Stars meets Baxendale delight, plus the fact it neatly connects with Hidden Cameras, and their forthcoming Mississauga Goddam album. girlsareshort are hanging out by the tennis courts and gazing at the lazy blue. Make sure you join ‘em.

A very different offering from Upper Class comes in the guise of the Food For Animals’ Scavengers set. Ten tracks and clocking in at a fraction under twenty minutes, this is a madcap Hip Hop record that has me grinning like a loon and dancing like there’s ass in my pants. The product of Washington DC duo Ricky Rabbit and Vulture Voltair, this in fact is more like Glitch Hop, with great raps exploding over the top of clashing electronics. It’s like Beastie Boys performing in a 19th Century Lancashire Mill with a radio playing Wu Tang Clan in the background. Yeah, that good. Really.

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett