Chances Are High
Okay, so 2005 is underway, so hereís the difficult question: are the records we get to hear in January but that were released in December contenders for picks of 2004 or 2005? Some years of course that question doesnít really apply, but this time Iím asking it because Iíve just been falling in love with the Transistor set by Monster Movie. This arrived just a day or two ago from the fine people at Graveface records, but already itís burrowed its way into the depths of my soul. Graveface, of course, is the label responsible for giving us the last record by the peerless Black Moth Super Rainbow and the awesome Dreamend As If By Ghosts set, so maybe its no surprise that they should proffer up this gem of gently psychedelic space-folk. Maybe no surprise either that there is a former member of Slowdive in the Monster Movie mix. Not that I ever liked Slowdive, you understand (not for lack of trying, either, but for me they always seemed to lack a certain spark of something elusive to mark them out from the rest of that shoegazer crowd. I even picked up their recent Catch The Breeze retrospective double CD set the other week. Despite several listens it still resolutely failed to grab me).

But back to Monster Movie: packaged in a smart red card sleeve embossed with a gold foil eastern orthodox icon, Transistor is sublimely and beautifully melancholic; itís like music to break your heart to. There are numerous highlights, not least of which are the perfectly disembodied vocals provided by guest Rachel Staggs of Texan spacepoppers Experimental Aircraft. Peak of the pack for me though is the aching ĎLeftí. An acoustic guitar drifts in on a bed of radio fuzz whilst the melody floats on the midnight moonbeams like the 14 Iced Bears sublime ĎHayfeverí from their eponymous lost masterpiece. In fact, ĎLeftí reminds me of playing that album alongside a tape of early Field Mice demos in a darkened hotel room overlooking Lochs and mountains in the Scottish Highlands, snow whipping across the water and the TV tuned to white noise in the corner. And for that, as much as the provision of such a lovely record, I am impossibly grateful.

Iím also grateful to Louis Phillipe for letting me hear his rather fine new album The Wonder Of It All. Iím sure you donít need telling about Louis exploits, so Iíll prťcis by saying: ťl records, Stuart Moxham (with whom Louis performed a great set at the Chickfactor ball in December 2004), Pizzicato 5, PJ Proby, Sean OíHagan, Cathal CoughlanÖ and Iím barely scratching the surface. Louis makes an exquisitely choreographed and bittersweetly literate chamber Pop. Immaculately dressed and perfectly poised, itís intelligent and clever without being unwieldy and overbearingly dull. Listing to Louis Phillipe you find yourself tracing lines in steamed bus windows that connect Robert Doisneauís post-war Parisian scenes to Momusí seedy bedsit haute couture to Brian Wilsonís vignettes of sleepy psychedelia to a daydreaming chamber orchestra playing the hits of Stephin Merritt. This is music that casts an eye back at those times when Vic Godardís ambition was to be played on Radio 2; music that, like Lawrence and his Denim aims to both embrace and undermine the notion of the middle of road.

To paraphrase some popular television advertisements, you canít currently buy the album in the shops, but you can instead head over to Louisí own website and get it there, along with a whole range of his previous recordings.
Now, Iíve never been a huge Low fan, but I have to admit Iíve been greatly enjoying their new The Great Destroyer set on Rough Trade (or Sub Pop if youíre in the US). I did of course dig that whole Kranky scene for a while some years ago, and Iím sure if I pulled out those old Labradford and Roy Montgomery records they would sound as fine as ever, but you know, it all got just a bit overbearing and glum for me and I had to move on. So whilst I always liked the idea of Low well enough, as a reality I tended to shy away from listening to them for more than a few songs. Thereís only so much slow/sad-core you can bear in one sitting, after all. Or there is in my book, at least.

The Great Destroyer though grabs me and pretty much keeps my attention for its 50 minute plus entirety. In these days of iTunes playlists and the skipping of songs being a mere keystroke away, thatís no mean feat. Maybe itís because thereís more obvious melody here, more traditional song structure. I mean, single ĎCaliforniaí could even pass as a classic country-folk-rock song, albeit one dragged through the dust and with its fringed jacket clipped. Or maybe its just that at times The Great Destroyer seems so much louder than I remember Low sounding in the past. In places itís a little like hearing Neil Young fronting Sonic Youth, at others itís like rediscovering The Pixies circa Surfer Rosa, and you know thatís no bad thing. At others points, however, itís mournful and beautifully downbeat; a ravishingly dark and seductive record of deserted lonely hearts on fire.

On a different tack are New York Cityís Baskervilles, whose Midnight release on Secret Crush has been delighting me this week too. There are two covers on the seven song set: The Bartlebeesí ĎPictures Of Youí, and The Television Personalities classic ĎLa Grande Illusioní are both given peachy treatments, and are perfect pointers to where the group are coming from. And that is from a landscape of bohemian love and squalor painted with tinkly (and twinkly) keyboards and guitars. Of their own sparkling compositions, thereís the ace ĎI Danced With Kate Mossí and my own favourite, ĎAnother Free Show In Battery Parkí, which recalls the refrain from the aforementioned TVPís ĎA Picture of Dorian Grayí. At twenty minutes, Midnight is a neat treat of sparkling off-beat Pop. Definitely worth investigating.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett

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