Get It Together
So February is almost over. Where did it go? I guess it disappeared in snow flurries and days lost to cold and colds. Anyway, it’s a bit late, (but better late than never, hopefully), but here’s my ‘current listening’ column for the month. I thought I’d copy William Crain’s idea of making a mix CD and then writing about it, so here goes nothin’ (if you’re quick-ish, you can catch the whole mix playing on the Tangents web-radio station thang)

Broken Family Band: John Belushi (from Welcome Home, Loser. Track And Field)
There’s a train of thought that says mixes should kick off with a memorable upbeat cut. I sometimes agree, but often I prefer to ease into things and this cut from the new Broken Family Band is just the thing. A downbeat gem that glistens with the same tarnished intensity of the very best of Clem Snide, this is a delicious reflection on the need for disengagement from the r’n’r rigours. That the rest of the album is every bit as good should be reason enough for you to get your money out.

The Yacht Club: Taxi Driving (from the YC ­001 EP on akoustik anarchy)
Manchester’s Yacht Club are something of a mystery, in much the same way that Clinic once were and indeed continue to be. The music recollects the arch post-punk-psychedelia of Clinic too, and this track comes over like ? And The Mysterions soundtracking a 21st Century Northern remake of The Trip. The EP has another three tracks of eclectic intrigue.

Smoosh: La Pump (from She Like Electric. Pattern 25 Records)
So they are two pre-teen sisters (12 and 10 respectively). So they have flowing blonde hair and perky smiles. So they will break a million hearts in a hundred countries. So what? They make brilliant Pop.

It would be so easy to be sceptical about Smoosh. It would be so easy to be dismissive, to cast them in the light of a million other teenage media constructs and damn them to the bargain bins of history. But to do so would be to miss so much, would be to ignore just what a great record Smoosh have made. Free from the interference of genre and reference obsessed record labels, managers and media types (hell, free from the crap of the Music Business), Smoosh have made one of the most honest and magically delightful Pop records of this, or any age. Instinctive and intuitive, these songs don’t always hit the mark (the contemporary r’n’b style obsession with irritating vocal wobbling impinges a little too occasionally for my liking), but when they do they hit hard and with a Pop purity that most indiepopsters would kill for. That they’ll never be this young again is impossible to argue. That they may never have the freedom to make a record this flamboyantly carefree again is something only time will decide.

The Go! Team: Get It Together (from Thunder, Lightning, Strike. Memphis Industries Ltd)
The glorious collision between Belle And Sebastian and the Wu Tang Clan, this is one of the best cuts off a really rather fabulous album, on which The Go! Team come over like a post(modern) Huggy Hip Hop Nation Under A Groove affair, making a madcap melange of noises that collide in a euphoric cacophony that’s brimful of the spirit of the early ‘80s NYC Hip Hop Underground they are so clearly in thrall to. Twee As Fuck indeed.

The Pipettes: Judy
The Pipettes rule. You must take this as a given, must believe it with every fibre of your being. It is one of those unarguable points of Pop Truth, like The Beach Boys are better that The Beatles and Subway Sect were the greatest Punk band ever. No questions. Just believe. ‘Judy’ is one of the demo tracks that have been doing the rounds for a year or so now, and it’s as much a gem as any other of their songs, which is to say it sparkles and delights with a rare and precious intensity. ‘Judy’ is the kind of song John Hughes films were once built around (or should have been); is full of the kind of cracked honesty that goes to the heart of what it means to be 16.
Rose McDowell: Crystal Nights (from Cut With The Cake Knife. Self released)
I used to have a tape of these songs back in the end of the ‘80s. It was a constant companion, and I played it literally to death. It’s a relief then to have these demos available on CD (albeit in a limited run of 500 numbered and signed copies), and I admit that in the past week I have been playing the ten songs almost continuously. There was a version of this song released on a 12” (‘a’ side as a cover of ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’) back in the early ‘90s, but it wasn’t nearly as good as this one. Some people think it’s just too obvious to make the Strawberry Switchblade / Pipettes comparison. ‘Polka-dots’, they might say, ‘big deal’. But I think it’s more than that: I think there’s a shared collision happening that’s equal parts Art School, Punk and Pop, and I think that The Pipettes can learn a lot from looking at what happened to Strawberry Switchblade twenty years ago: painted into a one-dimensional corner because of the strength of their look; grouped in with other artists they really had almost nothing in common with (I mean, tour support slot to Howard Jones?), production that didn’t always do them or their songs the justice they deserved…

Maximo Park: Apply Some Pressure (Warp)
Part of me wants to hate this. Part of me wants to condemn this as being by-numbers-new-wave-of-new-wave on the bandwagon of Franz Ferdinand, But then I think, hell, this is a great Pop record in the same way that The Futureheads are great Pop, so what’s the problem? Stop analysing it and just dance.

The Chris Stamey Experience: Shapes Of Things (from A Question of Temperature. Yep Roc records)
He of the legendary dBs (and hey, who remembers that Marble Giants song with the line about the Young Fresh Fellows and dBs records?) but perhaps more familiar to a new generation of Pop kids as Le Tigre producer, coming at you with a cut from his terrific collaboration with Yo La Tengo (and others). A cover of the old Yardbirds’ classic, this is heads down r’n’r that blasts an air of obvious delight and excitement from its players. Elsewhere on the album there’s a fine version of Television’s classic ‘Venus’ and assorted other Stamey originals that similarly glow with the fire of a bunch of folks intent on having a great time. Play loud and dance.

Electrum: An Army Of Me (demo)
I had a CDR in the mail from this group the other day. Nothing else, just an unsleeved CDR. Very mysterious, just the way it should be. Very cool, just the way it should be. Continuing the cover version theme started by the Chris Stamey cut, this of course is a Bjork song, and, given that I’m no great Bjork fan, I have to say this is an unqualified success. The other cut on the CDR, an Electrum composition called ‘Interference’ is every bit as good: like Camera Obscura meets The Vibration (and incidentally, check out the Sink And Stove UK issue of the Vibration’s excellent Ear To The Ground EP). Expect to hear a lot more from this mysterious bunch.

The Diskettes: 1 2 3 4 5 (Weeknights at Island View Beach: new recordings by The Diskettes ­ not yet released)
I love The Diskettes in the way I once loved The Marine Girls and Beat Happening. I love The Diskettes in the way I once loved The McTells and Small Factory at their brittlest and brightest. This track is all Rock and Roll With The Modern Lovers; a hop skip and a jump in love with ‘50s simplicity but edged with a contemporary colour that makes for an infectious confection. This is already one of my favourite albums of the year. And it’s only February. And it’s not even really an album!

Bill Wells Trio: Record Collectors (from Also In White. Geographic)
I first heard Bill Wells in December 2004 when he played at the Chickfactor ball in London. From the start, I was mesmerised, as his beautiful music washed around the hall and glinted off the chandeliers. Having tracked down some of his albums, that music has become a sweet companion in the past weeks, proving to be a salve to a battered soul on more than the odd occasion. For those in the know, of course, Bill Wells is one of those characters involved in the Glasgow Scene that flies a marvellously erratic orbit around the city grid, sharing the space with fellow heavenly bodies like Stevie Jackson and the B&S gang, The Teenage Fanclub crew, Future Pilot AKA and the world of Pastelism. Always sleeved in fantastic art, the Bill Wells records have an air of ultra cool ‘50s and ‘60s Modern Jazz records and that’s to be applauded of course. If you haven’t already discovered their delights, then prepare yourself for a treat.

Little Shyning Man: Thee Hart Shapeth Into A Fist (from Hart Of the Wud. On Sonic 360, available for download only on iTunes from March 7th)
This is the sound made by UK based Chris Haworth, and a fine sound it is too. A madcap melange of glitch electronica, medieval folk, free jazz, retro pop and even (whisper it) prog rock, Haworth has made a delicious album of uneasy listening to soundtrack brooding filmscapes of Gothic forests and gloomy subterranean cities. Spooked, slightly unhinged, and all the better for it.
Mathew Sawyer and The Ghosts: I got Lost In Hammersmith (from the Penny Falls EP. I wish I was unpopular)
Similarly spooked is this cut by Mathew Sawyer and The Ghosts. Sawyer is the drummer in the current incarnation of the Television Personalities, and is a respected visual artist with various gallery shows to his name around the globe. His music with The Ghosts is an extension of that art, which he uses as a means of exploring the idea of connectivity and isolation. Like his other art, the music of The Ghosts is unsettlingly simplistic; it makes for uneasy listening that ultimately rewards due to its very rawness and honesty. File next to the likes of The Legend!, The Diskettes and, of course, The TV Personalities…

Television Personalities: I hope he’s everything you wanted me to be (unreleased song, currently available on-line)
Well, how could anyone resist the temptation? Particularly when a new TVP’s song comes up for consumption. From the sessions recorded by Dan Treacy and his new crew in December 2004, this marks the welcome return of one of the finest Pop songwriters of this, or any, age. It’s got everything you could ever need from a TVP’s song, which is to say it has everything you could ever want from a Pop song. Dan’s distinctive and plaintive voice cracking yet full of strange strength, countered by a downbeat angelic refrain; insistent guitars and overlapping and overflowing words; repetition, repetition, repetition… God, it’s so good to have him back. I can’t wait for the first proper release.

Pipas: Wells Street (from Chunnel Autumnal. Matinee)
From the more than welcome re-issue of the first Pipas offering from 2001 (originally released as an edition of 300 on 10” by Long Lost Cousin), this sub 2 minute gem tells you all you need to know about why Pipas are so beloved around the globe: cool but welcoming, detached but involving, the contradictions of modern life rolled into a Pop that similarly sounds strangely contemporary yet infused with the spirit of the Ancients all at once. And by the Ancients we mean of course the pared back elemental spirit of Buddy Holly and also the origins of bossa-pop and doo-wop. The CD also contains the three tracks that made up the first Pipas 7” for Matinee, which means that these 11 songs (total playing time less than 25 minutes! Now that’s Pop for ya!) are finally available in the digital realm.

Aberfeldy: Tom Weir (from ‘Love Is An Arrow’ CD single. Rough Trade)
I have to admit that I wasn’t convinced by Aberfeldy when I heard ‘Vegetarian restaurant’. It didn’t make me want to hear more, and I thought it was verily pee-d over by the likes of Josef K and Primal Scream with whom it shared a 7” to promote the Rough Trade Indiepop collection. I still think that way, and whilst their ‘Love Is An Arrow’ hasn’t made me change that opinion much, I have to admit a soft spot for this track from the CD version of that single. A tribute to the legendary Scots broadcaster, author and climber (his Weir’s Way TV series is a kind of Scottish television classic), this is a warm and sweet song that soaks in a warm glow like sitting by the fire with a single malt.

Potion: Band Of Outsiders (from Band Of Outsiders. Blue Orange Records)
Title track from a really rather fine collection of electro-guitar Pop from this San Francisco duo of Annie Maley and Michel Bedoya. Full of upbeat urgency and fired through with an almost manic eyed fever, this is the sound of watching action thrillers on the TV with the neighbours’ stereos blasting Yummy Fur and early Stereolab records loudly through the walls. Elsewhere the album merges bossa-pop and what sounds like a penchant for mid ‘80s groups like Miaow. Certainly worth checking out.

Church Grims: Bruised Lips
(from The Church Grims Single. Egg records)
EGG records follow up last years’ collection of Church Grims demos with this release of what was to have been one of two tracks on a single in 1991 (‘I wish the ground would open up’ was the other track) . Recorded at Shabby Road studios in Kilmarnock (home to the Trashcan Sinatras), and produced by Larry Primrose (aforementioned Trascan’s, Teenage Fanclub, Cosmic Rough Riders) this saw the Church Grims with a richer, more rounded sound than those earlier demos. The CD has the two tracks from the aborted single, plus three live tracks from 1989. Another fine stab of post-Postcard Scottish Pop.
Ponies In The Surf: White Caribou (WERS version)
I loved the Ponies In The Surf CD from late last year, and was desperate to hear more, Fortunately, a bunch of radio session recordings fell into my lap, and of course they sound marvellous. Acoustic guitar, two voices in harmony and/or conflict, it’s the sound of icicles falling and piercing hearts, of blood-stained snow angel poets. Marvellous. Hopefully available on a 3” from I Wish I Was Unpopular before Spring has sprung.

Jens Lekman: Maple Leaves (from the Maple Leaves EP. Secretly Canadian.)
‘I’ve seen the saviour of Pop, and his name is Jens Lekman’ is what I wrote in my notebook last December after seeing him perform at the Chickfactor ball. I’d been in love with his When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog collection already of course, but seeing him play just made it all make so much more sense, and I went out and immediately picked up all the other releases I could possibly find. They rotated on the kitchen stereo and the Geek Lair iTunes for weeks on end, which is pretty good going these days I have to say. Picking one out for this mix then was difficult, but I had to go for ‘Maple Leaves’ if for no other reason than the sheer delight of the line about mistaking ‘maple leaves’ for ‘make believe’. It’s the kind of sweetly observed detail that makes Jens Lekman’s songs so wonderful; the kinds of songs you can’t help but clutch close to your heart and shower with love. Already a bona-fide (indie) Pop Star in his native Sweden, if 2005 doesn’t see Jens Lekman as one of the most dropped names in indie-hipster circles then I’m a Dutchman. Nothing against Dutchmen, you understand…

Lucksmiths: World Encyclopaedia of 20th Century Murder (from A Good Kind Of Nervous)
Sethe sent me this tune from the Lucksmiths’ 1998 set which for some reason seems to have slipped my radar. It’s typical Lucksmiths in that it is terrific literate Pop with great lines about being immersed in books and being miles apart. Also includes fine lines like “from Dr Crippen to The Yorkshire Ripper” and “from 10 Rillington Place to The Green Bicycle Case” (itself a neat reference to their 1995 record as well as to the 1919 killing of Bella Wright). John Carney was recently telling us all about Gordon Burn’s great novels, but what about his marvellous true crime books about Peter Sutcliff and Fred and Rose West? And wasn’t Lawrence a notorious fan of true crime books?

Damon And Naomi: Song To The Siren (from Song To The Siren. Sub Pop)
Again, John Carney brought the Damon and Naomi CD/DVD to our attention recently, and I couldn’t resist ending my mix with their terrific take on the Tim Buckley classic. Now I’m going to be difficult and go against the grain here, but to be honest Tim Buckley has never done it for me. And it’s surely sacrilege to say so, but I much prefer this (and indeed the This Mortal Coil version) to the original. John was right however in saying that Damon and Naomi took much of what was so special about the sound of Galaxie 500 with them then the group split, and they are surely one of the treasures of the age as a result.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett