Blue Winds Only Know
Iím a bit shut away in this attic, as you no doubt know, so itís probably no surprise that Iíd not heard of Shannon Wright before a copy of her Over The Sun (reverb 68 ≠ vicious circle) landed in my lap a week or so ago. Seems Iíve missed out on something special too, and Iím itching to hear her previous two albums, 1999ís Flightsalety and 2001ís Dyed In The Wool. So what have I missed out on? Well, terrific emotionally charged femme rock is what. Raw edged razor wire noise that throws odd shapes and sends crushing vines creeping around your heart. If itís references you need try Sleater Kinney and Nick Cave, both of whom asked Shannon to join them on recent US tours. Itís a cool blend of names too, because really Shannon collides somewhere between their waves of passion and darkness, sending out enormous reverberations that could cause earthquakes. Shannonís voice is key of course, like a less wayward Jean Smith (and no arguments today on whether the notion of that is a positive or a negative), but so too is her guitar sound that razes skyscrapers and her piano that caresses Lucifer. Vital also is the drumming of former Swirlie Christina Files, and the production values of one Steve Albini. Throw it all together and you have a mesmerising, emotional powerhouse of a record. Miss at your peril.

Similarly emotive but coming from a totally different angle are Silver Ray, whose New Love album (Broken Horse) has been playing round these parts for some time now. I first heard the lengthy instrumentals that make up the album a couple of years ago on a rogue cassette tape, and I thought then that they sounded beautiful, like the ghosts of early Felt records refracted through an Arizona sunset. Or a Victoria sunrise, which might be more appropriate since Silver Ray hail from Melbourne, and if you want to throw in the Australian comparisons you could thread a line between Silver Ray and the dusty Dirty Three, or indeed out further to rope in Augie March and the frankly peerless Deloris (why arenít Deloris more widely feted? Itís a mystery to me). And sure, the lengthy, orchestral post-rock machinations might so easily be linked with Godspeed! and Mogwai, but maybe thatís just too easy, and what about the aforementioned Felt or Durutti Column, and what indeed about July Skies? Of course the key here might be that those last few groups were and are too Pop savvy to ever indulge themselves in seventeen minute escapades, but so be it. Thereís nothing wrong with stretching out in the right situation, and Silver Ray are certainly one of those right situations.
I meant to write about the Tex La Homa album If Just Today Were To Be My Entire Life (Talitres records) last time out, but somehow it slipped my iTunes library. Not so now, as it spins once more to light up the grey Sunday morning skies. Eagle eyed Douglas Coupland fans will of course have spotted the Tex La Homa name as a reference to the character in Generation X, and itís a fitting nod because really I can imagine these songs being the perfect accompaniment to lazy afternoons in the Palm Springs desert, looking over the windmills in the Coachella valley, talking elliptically about everything and nothing. Full of downbeat electronics, frazzled no-fi guitars, distorted echoes of heartbeats and the simplest, most beautiful of melodies etching themselves out of nothing, this collection is custom made to accompany flickering super 8 films of road trips and train journeys of imaginary pasts. In many ways it reminds me of hearing July Skies for the first time, or of watching those great Road Dreams films on the telly all those years ago, Do you remember those? Sequences of cine film shot over the space of I forget how many years spent traversing the USA back in the early Ď70s. BBC 2 showed them late at night over a space of many weeks back in the early Ď90s. I have some of them on VHS somewhere I think, I should dig those outÖ But yeah, Tex La Homa sounds like those looked; all washed out yellow and blinding red, abandoned shells of buildings receding in the wing mirror, glimpsed and then gone.

Change of tack now for the soiled sounds of Soiled, whose Mindnumb CD found its way to me a little while back. Soiled is the sound of one Marcus H doing his best to liquidise musical influences in the blender of his mind. Or alternatively his Teeside bedroom. Which means that Soiled is the sound of bedroom beats merging with meandering ambience, a noise that exists somewhere outside of normal geography and time. On a similar electro and self-released angle are Swedenís Paddington DC who sent an unsleeved 10 track CDR that I must confess has been difficult to prise from my kitchen stereo. More precisely, itís been difficult to even get beyond the first track, and not just because itís nearly fourteen minutes longÖ Oh no, itís because ĎI Put Thingsí is one of those madly infectious Pop songs that snag you in the head and never let up. Stepping neatly from a swooping Inspiral organ to a swirling Baxendale technopop, this track is one that would make for one mythic 12Ē single, like say Flowered Upís ĎWeekenderí. Itís made for wild abandoned dances in the pulsebeat of summer gardens, all gazing at the sun and laying out by the castle walls feeling the heat reflect from the ancient stone. Itís the noise of being seventeen and in love with nothing you can call your own, the sound of crashing against walls and falling under tables with visions of a blonde fringe pounding on your retina, never letting up. Thereís an EP coming out on Planekonomi sometime soon apparently, You better pray ĎI Put Thingsí is on there.
More electro pop from Sweden now, care of the Light Bulb Project. Their ĎSan Franciscoí single on Lowride is magic throwaway stuff, all PVC clad girls daydreaming of a mythic 1980s and early Ď90s that may or may not have ever existed. This single actually reminds me most of the great Traci Lords album that came out in í95. 1000 Fires had Lords teaming up with the likes of Juno Reactor and Mike Edwards (of Jesus Jones, I seem to recall, yes?) to make a magically mad techno pop album. And didnít that too have links back the electro Ď80s with sleeve thanks to various Thompson Twins? Anyway, so the Light Bulb Project could be three Swedish Traci Lords (but without the dubious teenage porn-star histories, one rather hopes), making stabs at Pop stardom with a sequencer stuck to their hearts.

Now, I was really looking forward to the Color Filter album Silent Way (Pointy). Iíd heard great things of the electronic pop cooperative headed by Tokyoís Ryuji Tsuneyoshi, with references to the likes of St Etienne, Stereolab and Broadcast being bandied about. Sadly however, it all leaves me a bit cold. It all feels rather soulless, altogether too precisely constructed, too respectful of its influences to truly break free and be special, to take on a life of its own. Maybe too itís just that itís a little too polite, and maybe itís that Yuki Nishimuraís vocals are too much late Cocteau Twins era Liz Fraser and not enough early Ď70s Mary Perrin for my tastes. Either way, I canít get into Color Filter no matter how hard I try, despite all its soft pop credentials.
Talk of soft pop naturally leads me back to the Rev-Ola stable, from whom I recently picked up a couple of releases by Bergen White and Dick Campbell. The Dick Campbell set is of particular interest as yet another strand in the endlessly fascinating story that weaves around the whole Gary Usher / Millennium axis of late Ď60s / early Ď70s Californian soft pop sound that Joe Foster has been so brilliantly documenting these past few years. If youíve dug any of those other related sounds then this is another priceless gem as special and vital as those unearthed Sandy Salisbury cuts, or the Joey Stec solo material. So what do you get? You get beautiful songs exquisitely crafted, the sound of music made for the sake of making great music rather than to hit some notion of a fashionable soundÖ notably these are tracks cut by Campbell in collaboration with the likes of Usher, Steve Hoffman and Keypashine Golesorkhi in various Hollywood studios and offices whilst running the publishing arm of the legendary Together label. You have to wonder how great these songs would have sounded if theyíd been treated as a Ďrealí project, although then again, maybe that essential laid back quality would have been lost and itís a moot point anyway. More from this uncovered stash of Campbell / Usher songs is promised in the future. I can hardly wait.

The Bergen White set is no less intriguing, although for me itís slightly less appealing. White was of course a legendary arranger who worked with Elvis, Glenn Campbell, Duane Eddy and others, and naturally there are amazing lush arrangements on these cuts. A mix of White originals and a brace of covers (there are some cool David Gates and Townes Van Zandt numbers here), For Women Only features some great players, notably the legendary Area Code 615 band, and some terrific songs, but like the Color Filter record it lacks a certain warmth. Maybe itís more a musiciansí record; a record to appreciate more for its structures and arrangements than for its soul and emotion. Whatever, it just doesnít quite cut it for me, and Iím for sure playing that Dick Campbell set more often than this.

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett