Themes From Great Cities
I always feel bad about reviewing compilations. There are always so many tracks, too many bands to mention. I end up feeling guilty, knowing the disappointment of being a part of something and seeing others mentioned in dispatches whilst you are seemingly forgotten, left on the fringes. It’s not really a good feeling. But that’s just the way it is with compilations I guess, and it’s inevitable that with, say 21 tracks and bands, as there are on the Sink And Stove Hospital Radio Request List Vol 2, some will end up out in the cold. It’s almost inevitable too that with compilations there will simply be some cuts you warm to less than others, some too that you will be more than tempted to skip or program out of your playlist… It’s to Sink and Stove’s credit then that not once during this 21 song spread do I feel that temptation. The quality is universally high across the entire collection and at times reaches peaks that most labels must surely dream of. One of those peaks is of course courtesy of The Playwrights. Their ‘Welcome To The Middle Ages’ is the clearest evidence to date that the Playwrights are treading in the footsteps of the once mighty Wolfhounds, are taking their claustrophobic suburban dynamic frustrations in new and fine directions. It’s the kind of sound that Franz Ferdinand are making in their dreams.

Deloris meanwhile make the kind of sound that I make in my dreams. I’ve mentioned previously about the genius of Australia’s awesome Deloris, and if you still haven’t picked up a copy of their magnificent second album The Pointless Gift, then you need to put that right straight away. Deloris are making the kind of expansive, expressive sound that some used to call post-rock; the kind of supple impressionistic sound that recalls the heights achieved by Tortoise or Ui in their early days, but with perhaps more focus on diffracted folk than abstracted funk. Whatever, Deloris continue to fascinate, and one can only hope that Sink And Stove have it in their powers to release a new album of their genius at some point in the near future.

And speaking of genius, who should follow Deloris on this collection but the very wonderful Nick Talbot in his Gravenhurst guise. Most will know by now that the ever vigilant people at Warp have signed Nick, pushing his achingly lovely Flashlight Seasons album blinking into the light once again. Flashlight Seasons is a beautiful breath of a record, a hazy electronic-acoustic folk sound that sits by the riverside with July Skies and the Durutti Column, dreaming of gentler times in pasts and futures. And that’s the magic of the sound of Gravenhurst; it effortlessly bridges old and new, fashions structures that sway in the breeze, totems to the gentle revolution.

Elsewhere on the collection there are ace contributions by a host of other names, known and unknown: Billy Mahonie with another magic slice of post-folk-rock that could sidle down the avenue hand in hand with Deloris; The Dudley Corporation with a take on the blueprint Swell sound of yore; Caroline Martin’s exquisite off centre take on singer songwriter chic; Lomax’s madcap hardcore yelp on the fabulously titled ‘the bodies of journalists’. And ending it all is the return of The Legend! with ‘The King of Hobart’, in which the estimable Everett True rants impressively about punk rock over a sharply focused guitar and drum backing that recalls the likes of an anaemic Sleater Kinney (and hey, that’s a fucking great compliment!). It’s a great end to a great collection; proof it were needed that Sink and Stove is maybe the finest ‘new music’ label in the UK at the moment. Out Monday 28th May. Start queuing at the record stores now.
I really like the idea that labels are identified with cities. Sink and Stove is a resolutely Bristol based entity, whilst the Blocks Recording Club celebrates their hometown of Toronto. There’s been a fascinating scene brewing up in Toronto for some time now, and the Blocks gang have pulled together some of the threads into their Toronto Is Great!!! collection. And judging by the infectious energy coursing from the stereo whilst this is playing, you’d have to agree. Jumping off with Ninja High School’s amazing ‘It’s Gonna Be Us!’ (imagine high school Beastie Boys playing Standells records in their basement, and you’re close, but not close enough), this collection veers off in madcap directions through wonderfully distorted weedy electropop (hooks?! They got hooks to grab a Great White!!); wild freakouts where a couple of Smiths (that’s Mark E. and Harry) collude to destroy all rock and roll; strange folk infected guitar plucking, (like Dylan playing with Jean Smith). In fact, ‘infected’ is probably the best way to describe this collective sound: it’s like hearing recognisable threads of sound with peculiar growths and contusions. Music taken apart and put back together with a whole bunch of bits missing… or maybe it’s more like new music made from those bits left over. Pick of the bunch for me would have to be the awesome Les Mouches, who’s ‘Behold! The Hands of Men!’ is a precious gem that lights your way towards their full length album. Following close behind might be The Guitarkestra with their ‘The Torontopia is nigh/I can feel it, guy’ (it might just be because of the band name and the title, but the cut is also divine). Elsewhere, note must be made of a marvellously madcap deconstruction of those other Smiths’ song ‘Sheila Take A Bow’, wherein Kick Mouth You kick out Sheila and substitute Sally whilst simultaneously ripping out Marr’s dextrous guitars and replacing them with ramshackle electronics that trip over themselves in their race to finish first. Excellently irreverent and irrelevant, which is all you can ask of Pop really, isn’t it? And that really sums up Toronto Is The Best!!!: it’s a Pop Art Explosion of all the passion, fun, excitement, pretentiousness and honesty that all Pop should have in its heart, but sadly doesn’t. This is the real deal…

Also from Toronto is the Upper Class label, whose We Owe You Nothing sampler gives you nine tracks lifted from five albums. Those nine cuts are spread evenly between three Upper Class recording artistes: the very excellent Cansecos, the glorious Girls Are Short and the truly poptastic Russian Futurists. I’ve written in the past about the genius Pop confection that is the Russian Futurists, and if anyone was still debating whether to pick up their magnificent Let’s Get Ready To Crumble set, then the two selections included here should have you reaching for that Amazon bookmark and hitting ‘buy with one-click’. The Cansecos meanwhile give us three cuts from their eponymous album, which itself is a glorious set of West Coast influenced soft pop fed through the processor of ‘80s electropop. Highly recommended, especially now that the sun is out and the air is warming. The only group I’d not previously heard then are Girls Are Short, and it’s a delight to report that their three selections that kick off this sampler are every bit as good as the other two group’s offerings. Proffering two songs from their earlynorthamerican album and one from contactkiss, Girls Are Short (or is it girlsareshort ?) sound like Daphne And Celeste hanging with the All Girl Summer Fun Band whilst playing old Sophie and Peter Johnston records and you just know that’s gonna sound like a heavenly pop hit, right? Right. We Owe You Nothing is the sound of summer wrapped up in a disc of shiny plastic. No more no less. So what are you waiting for?
Staying in Canada (what is with those Canadians at the moment, huh?) but moving out to Edmonton, we have Humblebee recordings with their Hey! Where’d the Summer Go? collection. This is the label that alerted us to the delights of the magnificent Diskettes, and they crop up here with the perfectly titled ‘pop pop beat’, firmly cementing their place as purveyors of a natural Pop previously delivered by the likes of the Marine Girls and Beat Happening. The rest of the 24 tracks on the collection are provided by an international cast that takes in Australia (Sleepy Township with the glorious organ driven ‘Monument’, to pick out a highlight), Brazil, Finland, Sweden, UK, USA and of course Canada. Much of the collection puts me in mind of a lot of stuff I used to hear back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s ­ there are loads of guitars that shamble along in a fine jangling manner, throwing off sweet reflections of seven inch singles in plastic sleeves; fey singers hanging out on front door steps, hiding behind their fringes and wishing they had a pastels badge to lose… As such its music that’s largely tears me in two, one part of me running screaming from drippy sentiments, hands over ears to block out more lyrics about girls who won’t give you the time of day, the other part running headlong into the embrace of the wan outsiders, clutching the songs to my heart for exactly those sentiments and lyrics. And through it all emerge a handful of groups I really want to hear more from: the aforementioned Sleepy Township (and I’m cheating on that one because I already have, and they are great); Champion, Alberta (more Canadians who in places have a potential that puts me in mind of nascent June Brides and Hellfire Sermons); Seasick Crocodile (even if just for the name, but also for their Lou Reed / Pavement off-kilter post-folk inflections); Adelie (Brazilian indiepop that adds a sweet soft pop Stereolab like orchestration in the mix). It’s a collection that’s well worth investigating.

Finally, back to the UK (Oxford to be precise) with the Flow collection on the Make Mine Music label. Kicking off with a sample of what sounds like Millie from Freaks and Geeks (it isn’t, before you ask) before feeding into a deliciously simple synth refrain that recalls Mouse On Mars, this is a collection of sound that’s mainly so light it’s barely there. And it’s a sheer delight because of it. That opener ‘City’ by Shengen is certainly one of the highlights, but there are many more, not least the two cuts by the already legendary July Skies. Here Antony Harding gives us two more vignettes of ghostly English heritage toned to sepia. ‘The Days We Played’ and ‘Royal Observer Corps Amongst The Norfolk Dunes’ explore infatuations with place and time, eking out details of imaginary memory, of distorted history coloured by mediated illusion. They help remind us that in July Skies we have an artist that is gloriously special, the kind of artist they put blue plaques on buildings for. Those two July Skies cuts would in themselves make Flow an essential purchase, but the truth is that every one of the nine artists delivering sixteen tracks has something special to offer. Notable is the admirably monikered Epic 45 who turns in a couple of tracks that ache with regret and rumble with remorse, or Innerise, who shimmer like Seefeel and Slowdive. Flow is the sound of a suburban dream, the sound of summers lost and autumns found. It’s got me hooked, and I’m off to pick up a bunch of their other releases, looking forward to more treats for the summer months spread out before me. I suggest you do the same.

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett