He’s A Rebel
There’s something oddly rewarding about putting together mix tapes and CDs. A geeky pleasure, maybe, or just the joy of sharing. I guess it depends on your point of view. Back in my younger years there was always a core of people I could share mixes with, or at least on whom I could foist mine as labours of love and devotion, but as time has gone on that core has dwindled and disappeared. It’s been nice then to have reasons to make mixes again in the past few months, not least of which has been a determination to be more regular in updating the Tangents radio station. It also makes for easy structures to build these ‘recent listening’ columns around…

Chineseburn: Close Your Eyes

I hesitated about having this track from the Burning Sensations set open this mix, as the album is not released until September 5th, but really I could not resist. Released on their own Lightning Strikes label, I have to admit that most of the album has left me a little cold (too much Rocking and not enough rocking, if you know what I mean), but this track stands out as something of a delightful oddity, shot through as it is with mild Country and gentle psychedelia. It’s a charming, disarming delight.

Art of Fighting: Busted, Broken, Forgotten

I adored the first Art of Fighting album Wires. It happened along at a time when I was falling in love with Australian Rock music, and fitted perfectly in with the moods being set at the time by the likes of Augie March with their Sunset Studies and Deloris with their beautiful The Pointless Gift. Now I mentioned recently about the greatness of the latest Deloris set, so when I discovered this new Second Storey album by Art of Fighting I was impatient to hear what they had been up to. And the answer seems to be that they have been carefully perfecting their reflective and plaintive sound into something that sounds deliciously crystalline. This is my favourite track plucked from a clutch of down tempo delights. Fans of Red House Painters and Low take note.

Ebb and Flow: See You In The Fjords

Now, I don’t know much about Ebb and Flow, apart from the fact that they appear to be a California based trio and that they have a rather nicely packaged (brown card, a bit like that Stereolab Aluminium Tunes collection from a while back, or Richard Buckner’s Since, even) album called Time To Echolocate out on the Three Ring Records label that gave us the rather lovely Technical Difficulties, Under The Influence set by D.W. Holiday. And in fact, that Sterolab reference maybe isn’t a million miles off the beam, because whilst Ebb and Flow don’t really sound like the ‘lab per se, they do oscillate along similar kinds of lines, blending influences from Krautrock, post-rock, Jazz and soul into a rather fine new concoction. Certainly worth tracking down.
sufjan Stevens: Come On! Feel the Illinoise!
Now I have a lot of time for sufjan Stevens. To my mind he has released nothing but intriguing, intelligent and thoroughly engaging Pop records. And the fact that he has this astonishingly adventurous project to document every State in the USA in album form is surely only further proof that Stevens is an artist fuelled by the idea of exploration and discovery. These are traits we must praise at every opportunity, just as we should praise his records. And the Illinoise set (the second in the aforementioned project) from which this near seven minute masterpiece comes is certainly praiseworthy. You get 22 fine tracks, amongst which there are mixed six and seven minute minor epics (that’s epic in the sense of lovingly crafted elongated magic, not histrionic overblown sludge. But I suspect you guessed that already, right?) punctuated by sub minute sketches and experiments. I have a feeling that the more I play this album, the more it’s going to grow into one of those records that fill you with the warm glow of delight as you bask in the light of something special and wondrous. Certainly songs like ‘Chicago’, ‘The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders’ and of course this ‘Come On! Feel The Illinoise!’ cut are amongst the loveliest you will hear all summer, or all year, or ever. I wonder what State he will capture my heart with next? I’m already waiting with eager anticipation.

The Customers: Fifty Eight
I hadn’t heard about The Customers until this CD fell into my lap recently, but it seems they are something of a local sensation down Brighton way with they monthly Customer Club at the wonderfully notorious Freebutt. It seems their debut for the fine Shady Lane label sold out rather swiftly, and I rather suspect that this one may well do the same. Certainly it’s an addictive three minute Pop song (recorded, incidentally, by Stuart Troop, of Hope and Visitors fame, for those of you interested in the threads of obscure indie history) that intrinsically understands the elements of greatness. In other words, it revolves around catchy refrains that stick in your head for days whilst dealing with stock Pop themes of love’s wronged, and revenge. If ever there was a more memorable chorus than this one of “I’m gonna find ya, kill ya, move on” then I don’t think I ever heard it. Ace.

The Consultants: Pop Pop

And if ever there was a more aptly titled song than this one, I swear I never heard it either. Or I’ve just got an acute case of selective long-term memory failure. Whatever, this is a great Pop moment in the vein of Tiger Trap or Henry’s Dress (Amy Linton’s marvellously shambolic pre-Aislers Set band) and I love it dearly. The Consultants are another element in the East Coast Pop Rennaisance, and alongside their compatriots like the Pathways, Pants! Yell, Soltero, My Teenage Stride, Metric Mile, The Besties etc, they are making my life a delight where my jealousy at not being able to see these groups play every other week is tempered by the fact that I can listen to them every night in my Geek Lair. Oh, and it should be noted that The Consultants do share members with the fantastic My Teenage Stride, and that they made up some the band that backed the legendary Bid on his recent New York show at the Knitting Factory. It is important that these details be recorded for posterity, even if its only us geeks who really care. Okay, even if it’s only me who really cares. Sigh. From their Work From Home set for Shelflife. Go get it!

Go-Kart Mozart: Listening to Marmalade

So I wrote at length about the new Go-Kart Mozart set Tearing Up The Album Charts(West Midlands Records) very recently, and whilst ‘Summer Is Here’ will indeed find its way onto my Summer Mix, I opted for this slice of riff-driven vitriol for this mix mainly because it just so sounds so fine and exciting. Lawrence here gets into interesting territory, at once both musically revelling in and lyrically damning the culture of retro obsession and cultural archaeology that he arguably helped kickstart with his Denim incarnation back at the start of the 1990s. It’s a fascinating song from a fascinating album that captures the contradictions and conflictions of Lawrence perfectly.
Speedmarket Avenue: He’s A Rebel
Now when I was thinking about a title for this mix, it seemed like ‘He’s A Rebel’ was a perfect choice, and it really made sense to me to follow the Go-Kart Mozart track with this one because in my mind Lawrence is one of the great rebels of the last twenty years. And this Speedmarket Avenue track is, I think, a terrific slice of contemporary indiepop; the kind of thing that I think could probably only have come from either Sweden or possibly the USA these days. Culled from the super fine Records Make Great Pets collection on STK Records, this is guitar and horn drive heaven in an anorak, like The Legends meets June Brides playing the songs of Dino, Desi and Billy. Fuzzy, frothy, fun and frenzy.

Eurosport: Your Brother Is My Only Hope
Say yay! for Eurosport. Suppliers of live cycling for the satellite and cable enabled TV viewers of Europe (a god send for us UK fans in these summer months, particularly), or purveyors of infectious synth-pop. You decide, Me, I’m taking both and riding for the hills. This is on the fine Songs I Wish I Had Written label, which has grown out of one of those integrity driven small independent distros in Sweden (where else?!), and I heartily recommend it to you.

Westward Trail: Circle Of Bone
I first heard the Westward Trail a couple of months or so ago when a four track CDR arrived in the mail. It pains me to say I have been remiss in mentioning it before now, but better late than never, right? So to that aforementioned list of East Coast Pop Renaissance groups, you can now add this Boston guitar/electro-pop duo. Infectious, intelligent and reminiscent perhaps of the first Future Bible Heroes album in terms of its clear understanding of how to build contemporary gems that fizz with a spirit of classic ‘80s electro-pop without sounding laboured and overly referential or reverential. And if this was the early ‘80s, then I would be expecting to see The Westward Trail doing singles for FAST alongside 2.3. Someone ought to give them a proper release in 2005, and soon.

Strange Idols: Doors
I saw Strange Idols play recently on the same bill that saw My Favorite make their London live debut, and they struck me as potentially interesting, if a little obviously in debt to a generic C86 indiepop sound. On record though they sound much more interesting, throwing more shadowy angles and coming over altogether more robust and invigorating. This is another release on the Shady Lane label which is co-run by Neil Halstead (Slowdive and Mojave 3) and Strange Idol Julian Mash, though the word is that the release has been put back to October, so if I were you I would make a note in your diary now. And incidentally it appears that yes, the name Strange Idols is indeed a reference to the Felt album.

Jeremey Warmsley: I Believe In The Way You Move

I don’t know much about Jeremey Warmsley, and I lost the press release so I can’t just pilfer from that, but heh, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to think I did that sort of thing anyway (leave that to the writers of Guardian Guides and other such throwaway journalism). I do know that this has been picking up some BBC 6 radio play, and I can see why because it’s a suitably catchy piece of contempop that’s just slightly left-field enough to be somewhat less than obvious. It reminds me somewhat of They Might Be Giants in the vocal department, and that’s fine by me.
Munkie: In My Darkened Room
Munkie’s Jason Clark sent me a copy of the Chemical Process set a while back, but it took me a while to check it out properly. I wish I’d picked it up sooner too, because it’s quite ravishing in a downtempo gothic techno kind of manner. It reminds me a little of the excellent Electrum (watch out for a killer 3” CD from them soon, with a 7” to follow in the Autumn ­ fingers crossed) in that it’s haunting and lovingly spooked. Clark has a history of remixes for the likes of Liberty X, Fatboy Slim and others, but don’t hold that against him, because this effort shows him to be moving into the kind of dark techno influenced realms of pseudo-soundtrack style inhabited so brilliantly by the Sabres of Paradise and Two Lone Swordsmen. I’m looking forward to great things to come.

The Decemberists: The Sporting Life

Change of style and pace with this cut from the ‘new’ Decemberists album Picaresque, due for domestic release in the UK by Rough Trade sometime late summer. Of course those more in tune with the indie hipster scene will no doubt have been playing the Picaresque set on the US version of the release since March, but I’m a bit behind the times, so please forgive my ignorance. Not that I hadn’t heard of the Decemberists of course. I had, but was in honesty only vaguely interested in their sound based on what I had heard (mainly snippets from Her Majesty The Decemberists). Picaresque, though, has changed my opinion, and I’ve been playing it non stop for a week at least. It’s crammed with some of the finest songs I’ve heard in an ages, and tunes like ‘The Infanta’, ‘We Both Go Down Together’, ‘The Engine Driver’ and of course ‘The Sporting Life’ are really some of the grandest literate Pop you are ever likely to hear. This cut in particular, with its horns and jaunty pace recalls the peaks of Belle and Sebastian and kind of makes me think of what The Smiths might have potentially developed into if they hadn’t been so limited in their ties to guitar traditions. Certainly one of the albums of the year, without a doubt.

Kicker: New Day, Fresh Start
Speaking of jaunty pace, here come Kicker with a cut from their Our Wild Mercury Years set for Fortuna Pop. The more astute amongst you will recognise the album title as being from a Robert Forster quote, and the indie hipsters will no doubt also know that Kicker feature in their ranks ex-members of Velocette, Hood and Comet Gain, which makes them some kind of unlikely indie super group. Or not. Certainly though the Velocette and Comet Gain connections are clear in the Soul inflected arrangements and melodies and the driving, succinct Pop sensibilities, and that’s certainly something to give thanks for. Kicker are bright coloured gemstones twinkling in the grimy grey

Comet Gain: If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life
Still with Fortuna Pop, here’s a cut from the label’s four track ‘More Soul Than Wigan Casino’ EP on which four bands take on a Northern Soul track of their choice. I’m plumping for Comet Gain if for no other reason than hey, I love Comet Gain and I don’t need any more excuse to sling them onto a mix. Besides which, I love the idea of them setting down the pub rewriting Dena Barnes’ ‘If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life’ “to piss off the purists”. And Comet Gain have always been expert at bursting perceived bubbles of cool before wheeling out their own inclusive inflatables of fun: Comet Gain are like a bouncy castle of Punk Soul passion perched somewhere precariously amongst the rusted cars and abandoned washing machines of the council block. Which is fine by me. I just wish they would make another record… Elsewhere on the EP the aforementioned Kicker take on The Inciters ‘Since You Left’, Airport Girl do the O’Jays classic ‘Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)' and the ever elusive Butterflies Of Love return with a version of the Mary Wells hit ‘Two Lovers’. All guaranteed to please.

Eau Claire: Song For
I first heard Eau Claire way back in January 2005 when Rachel Staggs very kindly sent me a collection of songs on a CDR. I was very taken by the recordings then, and it’s good to see four tracks surfacing on this EP for clairecords. I’m sure many of you know already that Rachel is a member of the ace Experimental Aircraft outfit and that she contributed deliciously to the excellent Monster Movie Transistor set for Graveface. Jessica Bailiff, meanwhile, you possibly know as part of the Clear Horizon project with Flying Saucer Attack’s Dave Pearce. With those reference points in place you’d probably have a good idea of what Eau Claire sound like, and you’d be about right in thinking it was a sparse, shadowy and somewhat surreal spacerock suffused with sepulchral vocals. Certainly worth tracking down, and just the thing for lazy summer evenings on the lawn.

Prefuse 73: Pagina Ocho

Definitely a downbeat tail end to this mix, and this continues the mood. Prefuse 73 has been making some exemplary electronica sets for Warp in recent years, and this one sees Scott Herren combining his digital dealings with the avant-folk of Massachusett’s based The Books. As with the Eau Claire set, this is a collaboration over distances, with electronic and traditional mail services bringing the two camps together, and with the distance perhaps serving to further bolster the mysterious outsider personas of both parties. Certainly it lends the eight track set a naturally strange sense of tension that counters perfectly the flowing nature of the self-contained set. Of added interest on this, the closing track of the set, is the addition of Claudia Maria Deheza, courtesy of the excellent On! Air! Library! whose split EP with The Album Leaf I greatly enjoyed some years ago. If you hadn’t already earmarked this set for your summer listening, I’d suggest you add it to your list right now.

Team LG: The Way We Do It
Closing out with another sweet downtempo gem, courtesy of this cut lifted from the Now Is the Winter Of Our Discount Tents compilation on Twisted Nerve. Compiled by Andy Votel and Badly Drawn Boy, this is a sweet collection of contemporary ‘folk’ sounds that I would recommend without hesitation, and even though I have little time for the Badly Drawn Boy’s own material, he does at least seem to be able to pick out some fine music for this collection. There are many highlights, not least of which would be the wonderfully quirky ‘Central Rehion Maximum Sex talk’ by Supreme Vagabind Craftsman (just my luck this will turn out to be a pseudonym for Badly Drawn Boy…) and Shegarus Clockwork Woodpecker by Little Miss Trinitron (yes, I am a sucker for interesting names). Plus of course this beauty of restrained electronica folk overlaid with the kind of faintly emotive vocal that is guaranteed to make me go weak at the knees. Nice to see Lispector getting some well deserved attention on the album as well, in the form of her brilliant ‘Ice Cream Man’. Certainly one to pick up if you haven’t already done so.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett

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