Ghosts Of Dancing Angels
I’m struggling these days. So many reasons, most of them aligned to the idea that there is not enough time in the day and that my bones and emotions are old and so easily exhausted. Then there’s the weather: getting on for the end of May and summer has barely shown a hint of being ready to appear here. It’s still all grey skies and stuttering showers roving over the skies, and even when the sun does deign to appear, there are cold winds blasting around like we’re back in the West of Scotland. Not pleasant.

I’m struggling too with having piles of records that I listen to and then put on one side to write about nearer their release dates, only for that time to arrive and for me to have forgotten what I was going to say about them in the first place. I feel certain I’ve said it before, but it all makes for a strange record listening experience; always feeling slightly out of kilter with everything, often hearing records in seasonal contexts that are just not quite right. Not that all records are contextually dependent on the seasons, but you know it does make a difference. Especially for us Brits with our peculiar obsessions.

But whilst I’m struggling to wade through those piles, it’s also a delight to come across the treasure, like this Carmaline set by Stockholm based Wan Light on the excellent Labrador label. It sounded sublime a month or so ago; perfectly suited to the time, with an edge of expectation and the glimmering spark of summery hope hidden within its body of pale washed out skin. Tonight it still sounds like a brilliant delight beamed in from some strange parallel universe where waifs and strays rule the roost from thrones of black candyfloss. It’s an odd record, and beautifully so. It’s certainly not what you might expect from a group named after a classic Orange Juice song. Or maybe it is, for it is a record filled with wit and wisdom; a record brimming with peculiar avenues lit by flares of love and intrigue. It’s a record that makes drawing out frames of reference difficult, but you could probably draw some lines in the sand that would meander around Galaxie 500, soft Baroque Pop, Simon and Garfunkel, King Creosote, early Magnetic Fields, July Skies and Durutti Column (there’s a track called ‘Sketch To Vini’ that sounds exactly like you think it would ­ I still can’t decide if this is a good thing, however). It’s full of deliriously frolicking Pop songs that insist on flirting with the scary relatives at the wedding reception: ‘The Beehive Kid’ for example is an immense tune that falls under the spell of a raven-haired, wild-eyed beauty with a penchant for brooding synths and hand claps; ‘The Eskimo In Me’ is a rollicking good romp fallen prey to a Twin Peaks story arc. Possibly. What is certain, however, is that Carmaline is one of those rare treasures that continue to please for months and years to come; is one of those records in which you can continue to find new angles and depths after numerous infatuated hours spent in it’s folds.

The same could be said of Nottingham based quartet Lorna, whose Static Patterns and Souvenirs set is due out in mid June on the Words On Music label. Opener ‘Understanding Heavy Metal Parts 1 and 2’ is a real delight, and was one of my favourite tracks of last month, often echoing down the wires of my iPod stuck on an April playlist that focused on bleak melancholia shot through with the warmth of impending days of sun. How it’s going to fit in June I have no idea, but I suspect it will sound just as fine and will be as peculiarly apt as any song with such a title that employs banjo, harmonica, trumpet and nifty electronica. The whole album is similarly a delight of downbeat, sweetly melancholic softness that treads the ground once wandered by the likes of Low, Mazzy Star, Brighter or Mojave 3. It’s music that makes cinematic sweeps of colour, that delights in broad textural grounds occasionally ornamented with trails of fine detail and pattern picked out in delicate strokes. I can imagine this album being a perfect accompaniment to lazy afternoons blinking into the sun, seeing fleeting ghosts of dancing angels perform on your eyelids. Well, we can dream, can’t we?
Back in Sweden (Gothenburg, to be precise), meanwhile, we find four-piece girl group Audrey. Like Rachels or Red House Painters backing a carefully restrained Bjork, their four track eponymous EP for Stereo Test Kit is a minor masterpiece of glaciers melting to reveal jewels of coloured plastic toys and frozen heart shaped candies. Deceptively calm and darkly seductive, Audrey is certainly a name to watch. The same goes for fellow Swede’s My Enemy, whose five track Elil EP on the Gothenburg based Vapen and Godis label has similarly been a source of pleasure recently. More upbeat than Audrey, this trio make the kind of sweetly electronic derived Pop that makes me think of The Metric Mile or the uber-sweet Fibi Frap. Which is high praise indeed. Slightly surreal story driven songs meander down the avenues of the subconscious with tinkling melodies that circle around your spine laying mines for future detonation. If I was sixteen again the name My Enemy would be yet another Swedish band name to write in hearts on my pencil case, and would be more fuel to my sulky insistence that my parents move the family to Gothenburg.

Okay, so much as it pains me, let’s head away from Sweden for a moment and head to France, where we find Syd Matters and a two track seven inch on the There’s A Riot Goin’ On imprint. Syd Matters is in fact 23 year old Parisian Jonathan Morali, and it’s probably no great surprise to discover that there is more than a hint of the occasionally brilliant (and frequently infuriating) Mr Barrett about his sound. ‘Obstacles’ is the lead track, but my preference is for ‘Fear Of Heights’ if only because it’s more lively and excitable. Better by half though is fellow Franchman Mickael Mottet, who under the Angil moniker has made a rather marvellous single in ‘Beginning Of The Fall’. Imagine the sound of Broadcast meets Blueboy in a Canterbury side street, nodding hello to The Sea and Cake whilst playing old Codeine songs on their personal stereos, and you’d possibly be getting close. Certainly it bodes well for the Teaser For: Matter set due out on Megaphone at the end of the month. More French sounds come in the form of Chok Rock, whose excellent 'Big City Loser' single was reissued at the start of May on the seminal Warp label. Sounding for all the world like it would be safely at home on a Ze release circa 1980, this is surely reason enough to snap it up if you have not already done so.

Back in Blighty now, and there’s Sunnyvale Noise Sub-Element who make excellent messed up sounds on their Techno Self Harm EP on Field Records. Pick of the crop for me is the wonderfully titled ‘How Spiderman Was Tricked By His Wife’, which starts with a distorted P.i.L bass rumble, stumbles over some glitch electronica washes, and then settles down into a groove that comes over all Ui meets Playwrights, which is clearly no bad thing. Elsewhere the spirit of eclecticism lives on with forays into imploding rural landscapes (‘Cow’) and manic urban drum’n’glitch guitar infusions (‘Techno Self Harm’). Great stuff.
Now I quite like the Manchester based Akoustik Anarkhy label. I didn’t care for the whole Nine Black Alps hype, and certainly not everything there is worthy of your time, but the Autokat single ‘The Driver’ / ‘Television’ most assuredly is. Now I know that the whole post-punk New Wave skinny tie thing is big business these days and that it often feels like the world is swamped with groups of wannabes digging out old Talking Heads and Gang Of Four records, but I can think of a lot worse things to be digging, so what the hell. Autokat however stand out from the crowd, if only because they sound a bit like Emperor Julian once did, and because they seem to understand the value of repetition and sound like they wanted to make a 21st Century ‘Roadrunner’ for the North of England. Oh, and also because ‘Television’ reminds me of the great ‘Television, Satellite’ by Sophie And Peter Johnston. The NME apparently recognised this great single last week and said it was terrific “despite sounding like it was recorded in a dustbin.” Naturally they miss the point: it sounds terrific BECAUSE it sounds like it was recorded in a dustbin.

Querelle, on the other hand, sound like their eponymous seven track mini-album for Sink and Stove was recorded in a tropical fish tank in an aircraft hanger. They make a noise that is expansive yet colourfully compressed, not unlike those early Ride or Boo Radleys sets for Creation back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. And like both those groups, and of course My Bloody Valentine before them (and Sonic Youth before and after them), Querelle play the game of noisy melody, or meodic noise, whichever you prefer. More proof, after the recent releases by Controller, Controller and The Organ that Sink And Stove is one of the finest UK small labels out there.

And finally, back to Sweden (where else?!) for a couple of new ultra-limited edition (25 copies!) releases on the My Secret Garden label. First up is Olof Broström and the four track In A Trailer Park. The title track sounds like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds rumbling through an imagined Americana landscape on Super 8, whilst ‘Troubled Kid Forever’ throws a trebly bedroom electro pop feel into the mix that’s darkly endearing. Eccentric and vaguely troubling, it’s certainly worth a listen. Erik Halldén’s Portrait Of The Singer As A Married Man ­ Volume 3’ is similarly diverting, coming over like Jeffrey Lewis recording behind velvet curtains in a garden shed with the microphone stuck in a pair of boots left outside in the rain. Muddy isn’t in it, which is a shame, because the songs here are starting to sound like intriguing pieces of no-fi folk, and I for one would love to hear ‘It’s someone else’s turn to go to hell’ recorded with even a touch more clarity!

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett