October Sighs
A mixtape of recent listening
Sigh - Knitting By Twilight

Such a great title. It’s how I feel most of the time right now, like my life is one long giant sigh; an exhalation of breath into the darkness. And if there’s no-one around to see you cry, are the tears real? Whatever the answer (and I suspect that you’ll agree the answer is most likely ‘more real than you will ever know’), this track is both a delicious antidote and empathiser all at once. Supple like a sapling and moody as a dark shady oak, this track comes from a sampler for the Someone To Break The Silence set by Knitting By Twilight, who feature members of the very fine Overflower amongst their rank. And if the other tracks on that sampler sound a mite too heavily reliant on old PC soundcard midi instrumentation, well, this track more than makes up for it. The sound of Mercy’s auburn hair falling round your lips in a twilight glow.

Stranded In Greenland - For Against

I totally missed For Against back in the mid to late ‘80s, but even so, this reissue of their 1988 December set (originally on the Independent Project label, now out on Words On Music) has sounded like a drift back into the daze of the kinds of dreampop that Kitchens Of Distinction were making around the same time, and has me revelling in evocative memories. So, the sounds of mists washing up the Clyde and lighthouses blinking across the bay; the feeling of chill autumn winds biting through threadbare suede jackets and checked shirts, fringe flapping forlornly in my eyes; headphones pressed permanently to ears, an endless source of waking hours daydream cinemascapes. This is the sound of Nebraska bred Chameleons fans dreaming of Bunnymen album covers, and take that as you will. Me? I’m pressing ‘replay’.

16 Military Wives - The Decemberists

Storming single from the masterful Picaresque album, about which I wrote back in July. The Decemberists make me want to sing and carouse from the tops of mastheads. Is this a good thing? I’m sure it must be. Got to love those horns.

Charlotte Corday - The Hat Party

Historical scholars will know Charlotte Corday as the woman who knocked off Marat in the bath, and there are surely few more admirable revolutionaries to immortalise in song. So it’s certainly a case of “chapeaux!” to Madison, Wisconsin band The Hat Party for this excellent track from their debut Agents And Thieves set on Sector Five Records. Now, oddly enough this is the second album this month to be accompanied by a one-sheet that mentions The Chameleons, though here the relationship is more obtuse than with For Against. Here it’s not so much the grandeur of that band which is referenced, but rather the addictive collisions and collusions between angularity and rhythm. It’s harsher than Chameleons too, being rooted as much in the American Alternative Rock universe as anything else. And whilst that can occasionally grate just a touch, on the whole it works admirably.
Sometimes Always ­ Brakes

I admit it: I am thoroughly besotted by Brighton’s Brakes and their exquisite Give Blood set on Rough Trade, so I need no excuse to include another track on this month’s compilation. Now Brakes have a fine line in cover versions, with a grand take on the country standard ‘Jackson’ and this, a playful romp on Brighton’s pebbly foreshore with the Jesus And Mary Chain. Now this was originally a lovely bright red vinyl single, and I remember nights spent in thrall to the odd country noisenik balladry courtesy of the brothers Reid and guest vocalist Hope Sandoval. And whilst it would be nigh impossible to recreate Sandoval’s out of body experience, guest backing vocalists The Pipettes (in their original line-up with Julia) do a sterling job and sound magnificent of course. Brakes are the sound of Pop / Rock having a ball, and are all the better for it. More please, and thank you.

Dirty Mind - The Pipettes

I know it’s an obvious programming link, but so what? How can you have enough of the Pipettes? Answer: You bloody well can’t. Shame then that you’re all going to have to wait until November 14th for the release of their first non-limited-and-straight-to-ebay single. Courtesy of the fine people at Memphis Industries, this single sees The Pipettes in typically fine form, dreaming of a time when Rock’N’Roll wasn’t a dirty word. I mean, come on, how can you not adore a group who have a self-proclaimed mission to “turn the clock back to a time before The Beatles ruined everything”?

‘Dirty Mind’ is classic Grrl Groop Pop updated to the 21st Cenury with a knowing nod, wink and lasciviously licked lips. I can’t wait to see them on TOTP, glamming it up in their hand made polka dots and cardigans, making a mockery of desperate X Factor wannabes. Go Pipettes! Go Cassettes! Smash the Rock aristocracy and whisper sweet nothings in our ears always.

I love you forever.

Demons ­ Battle

Now hopefully you all managed to snag your copies of the Pipettes 7” on the ultra hip Transgressive label, for whom this next bunch have also just released what will no doubt turn out to be another piece of much sought after vinyl. The one-sheet tells me that Battle are “M25 scene leaders” which makes as much sense to me as the contents of a GCSE Science modular test paper. Which is to say, bugger all. All I know is that ‘Demons’ is a ringing crescendo of cascading superheated gritty guitars overflowing in a froth of Pop knowingness; like Spearmint snogging Blur whilst playing footsie with Adorable. All of which will mean nothing to The Kids and shows off little else but my aging furrowed brow, but meh. I can live with that.

Everything 2 Me - Aluminum Babe

Courtesy of NYC and with Swedish chanteuse Anna up front, Aluminum Babe here put me in mind of the luscious Action Biker flirting outrageously with the excellent electropopping Freezepop, and in case you were wondering, that’s some mighty fine comparison. Blipping synths that catch you off guard with melodies your head hums for hours meets synthetic beats that wish they were a Baxendale record. They love the sound of dance music, oh yes they do. But they also love the aesthetic of the three minute Pop sensation, and that’s a mighty fine combination to be in thrall to. Aluminum Babe are the sound of superpopelectronix for the kids of tomorrow, today. Or something.
The Huntsman Comes A-Marchin ­ Chris T-T

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I heard this for the first time. So I did both. Certainly in the running for the not very prestigious at all honour of my Song Of The Year, this is a marvellously literate political tirade that should have you rolling in the aisles and punching the air in defiance. The impact is perhaps lessened if you don’t live surrounded by Countryside Alliance types (got to love that line “we’ll call them the Cunts for short”) or if you don’t live in the UK, but regardless, Chris paints a vivid picture that’s surely impossible not to be moved by.

Like all of the songs on the sublime 9 Red Songs set, this cut shows Chris T-T more than capable of the tricky juggling act of making political and Political Pop whilst never losing sight of the value of humour or the inherent hypocrisy in mediated ‘protest’. So whilst his songs are filled with vehement, vitriolic observations on the contemporary world around us (notably the intense ‘A Plague On Both Your Houses’), he’s also not shy of putting himself in context, courtesy of the self-mocking ‘Preaching To The Converted’ with the ace line “nobody’s got any good red songs anymore / and Billy Bragg’s gone fishing in his 4X4”. And whilst it would be churlish not to admit that it’s to Bragg that this record undoubtedly nods, it would be equally churlish not to also admit that Chris T-T is undeniably well equipped to take that inheritance and nudge it in new and interesting directions.

Now naturally all you young guns are way ahead of me on Chris T-T, and have no doubt already been digging his previous releases on the excellent Snowstorm label (home of the aforementioned Spearmint and also the much missed Animals That Swim), but for me it means that I‘ve got the pleasure of tracking down his London Is Sinking and The 253 sets. I can’t wait.

I also can’t wait to see him play with Brakes, as he hops around the country with them this month on tour, and in November he’s apparently down on my own doorstop, playing the Bridge Inn out in Topsham. Result!

Part Time Moral England - The Nightingales

What better way to follow Chris T-T’s punchy political pop than with some marvellous wordsmithery from the bard of the west midlands, Robert Lloyd. This comes courtesy of the first release on the new Caroline True label; a reissue of the Nightingales classy 1986 In The Good Old Country Way set. Stepping out with a fiddle and a countrified twang in the midst of 1986 wasn’t, on the face of it, a great idea. Not with a nation of indiekids enraptured by bowlcut guitar tomfoolery. But then the Mekons were treading similar paths, and lest we forget, it wouldn’t be long before parts of the dissolved Loft would step forward armed with John Hartford albums and dreams of Nudie suits.

So were the Nightingales several years ahead of their time? Maybe. Certainly In The Good Old Country Way was kind of forgotten when it was released, which was a shame, because listened to now, it’s a storming record, filled with great songs full of marvellous hooks and witty barbs. Even better, this reissue comes complete with extra goodies, such as the excellent 1984 single ‘It’s A Cracker’ and the great ‘Let’s Surf’ from the 1986 Vindaloo Summer Special.

With the release of a long lost Prefects live recording coming soon, and at least one eye on the dream of resurrecting the criminally out of print early Denim recordings, Caroline True would seem to be a label intent on salvaging the classiest of Midlands’ Pop mavericks’ output.

More power to them.
Waitin' For My Baby - Hawkshaw Hawkins

More salvage operations courtesy of the fine people at Rev-Ola with this cut lifted from Volume One of the Country Goes Rock’n’Roll series. Titled The Old Guard, this collection has such delights as Merle Travis’ singing ‘I’ll Have Myself A Ball’ and Marty Robbins’ take on ‘That’s All Right’. It’s a strange and intriguing record, highlighting a moment in time when the established dominant culture of White country music fed off the upstart Rock’n’Roll ­ itself a genre that was rooted as strongly in rockabilly and country as it was in the fermenting waters of The Blues. So for a fleeting moment you had a musical culture that was (knowingly or otherwise) feeding off its own offspring, creating strange new hybrids. And what stands out most clearly now is how the countrification of the rock’n’roll sounds so sterilised and squeaky clean in comparison to the barely born source. So for the most part, these tracks sound like the attempts to sanitise the dangerously wanton appeal of rock’n’roll that they perhaps knowingly were; although that’s not to say that they don’t sound fantastic because they assuredly do. And in fact, perhaps it’s that very attempt to de-sexualise the music that makes it so intriguing and beguiling ­ the tension of what is not expressed becomes the key element.

And maybe, of course, the songs just sound great; redolent of an impossible time, mediated in our hearts and minds by a million and one TV shows and movie scenes.

I mean, who doesn’t love a cowboy, after all?

Nightmare - Lori Burton

Also from Rev-Ola comes this classy stab of melodramatic femme Pop. John Carney has already told you how essential the Breakout set from which this cut comes is, and has commented too on how great Lori looks on the cover. So all I can add is that if the idea of big hearted soulful ballads mixing it with Shangri-La girl gang Pop (this track, the brilliant ‘Nightmare’ was originally pushed by the label as being by invented femme trio The Whyte Boots) thrills you to the core (and why wouldn’t it?) then this is a treat and a half. In my dreams The Pipettes have already added a cover of this to their repertoire.

Don't Fence Me In - Grady Tate

Part four in our reissue run, this comes from the fine Windmills Of My Mind set recently salvaged by the resurrected él label. Now I’ve heard several voices of discontent from the darker corners of the indiepop realm, complaining that the rejuvenated él is a pale shadow of its former self, and that releases such as this and The King’s Singers excellent Colouring Book collection are a far cry from the labels previous offerings from the likes of The King Of Luxemburg, The Would Be Goods or Bad Dream Fancy Dress. They’re wrong of course, because really these new releases are totally in keeping with the él vision of MOR pop for all. Not that any of that really matters anyway, because what does count is that this is a terrific lounge-pop set from a Jazz great (session credits for the likes of Duke Ellington, Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Lalo Shifrin aren’t on many people’s CV’s) that works wonders as an aural unwinder after hard days and nights of toil and strife. Classy.
The Correct Use Of Failure ­ CDOASS

Change of tempo, change of style. Now I received a package of great CDOASS product recently from Sweden and I have to say it really did blow me away. I had been hoping for something special after reading Jon Pipette rave about them, and of course any chums of the very wonderful Jens Lekman have to be half way decent, right? Even so, the sheer delicious uptight funky edginess of CDOASS came as a delight that surpassed even my highest hopes. Now naturally the divine Rose Pipette was spot on when she noted that “if all those crappy NME-hyped Eighties-tribute bands had done it right, they’d be as good as CDOASS.” And really it seems to me that part of what CDOASS have done right is understanding the value of the influence of disco and funk on the best post-punk acts, and that one of the greatest post-punk labels was of course the mighty Ze (and the fact is that Ze is something that probably has never even registered on the radar of all those crappy NME-hyped bands). So CDOASS are thankfully as much Cristina as they are Gang of Four, are as infected with the dancefloor aesthetics of Material’s ‘Bustin Out’ as they are by Magazine’s The Correct Use Of Soap (to which I assume this track’s title is a humorous nod). And this, clearly, is a very good thing indeed. All of which means that if you haven’t yet tracked down the Extra Fingers set that this comes from, you had better do so right now. To coin a phrase, CDOASS are way ahead.

Movements Towards A Paperless Life - The Playwrights

And speaking of being way ahead at the forefront of the real classiest post-punk resurrection shuffle (rather than being at the gonzoid NME/MTV2 ass end), here are the ever wonderful Playwrights with a tempting treat from their newly completed English Self Storage long player. This isn’t out until at least January, so I’ll not say too much now, other than admit once again how much I love this band, and to stress yet again how criminal it is that their educated, literate suburban rock has been ignored by the mainstream media whores in love with their oh-so-obvious Rock stereotypes. Playwrights are the sound of the frustrated true underground fighting to be heard. Do yourself a favour and listen to their cry.

The Garfield El - The Fiery Furnaces

Now I have never quite known what to make of Fiery Furnaces. I love their name, and I have loved several of their more obviously Pop-toned singles. But they have always seemed to me to be a band that can’t decide what they want to be, rather than being knowingly and deliberately obtuse and experimental. The release of the Rehearsing My Choir album, however, has made me think again; has made me swing more in favour of the idea that now they DO know exactly what they are doing; that they are indeed intentionally treading the path that has well-planned traps designed to throw the unwary follower off the trail. So Rehearsing My Choir is a concept album; an album that tells the story of Olga Sarantos; Choir director, organist, wife, grandmother and raconteur of Chicago life from the 1920s to the present day. Or say it says on the one-sheet at least. It seems that the character is based strongly on Matt and Eleanor Friedberger's grandmother, and the album paints a convincing portrait, travelling through multiple musical genres and reflecting on her parlour tales whilst still retaining a feel that is recognisably forged in the furnace, so to speak. It’s an adventurous and evocative record, particularly with 83 year old Olga mixing it with her throaty alto, reflecting on hard times and the cruel blows of fate. Ultimately though it’s a quirky and uplifting record, and god knows there’s few enough of those around these days.

Party's Over - The Pathways

As with The Playwrights, no excuse is needed to again showcase the delights of The Pathways, and this cut from their finally released Boat Of Confidence set on RIYL Records clearly shows why. Postcard tinged Pop from the Pavement side of the street simply doesn’t come any finer.
Thank God For The New York Public Library - The Snow Fairies

This cut comes from the Snow Fairies' Get Married set on Total Gaylord records, who also released that wonderful Pipettes 7” with the fold-out sleeve and the shocking pink vinyl. Now I must admit that I often feel a little embarrassed to say that I still like so much of this kind of pointedly no-fi indiepop, but I’m not sure why. I mean, a band voted as “Philadelphia’s most huggable”? Surely not. Yet somewhere deep inside I’m still a sucker for a song about a Library that’s barely a minute long and that includes a line like “you’re a loner, that’s the way it has to be” over a one-step-beyond-inept backing that’s all biscuit tin drums and Woolworths guitars. So knowingly mediated innocence as a revolt against Rock is as old as the trees (or at least as old as those Talulah Gosh singles) but it’s still nice to know that there are those who remain dedicated to carrying on the fight. Even if they do fight with packets of sweets and jugs of Kool Aid.

My Favorite Dream - The Smittens

Treading similar ground to that of the Snow Fairies are The Smittens with their A Little Revolution album for the North Of January / Dangerfive labels. I have to say though that I prefer The Smittens if only because they remind me more of fine 60s bubblegum mixing it with a vaguely Feelies guitar sound. They also feature the very wonderful Colin Clary whose prodigious output also resulted in his recent self titled set for Asaurus. And whilst the sleeve here isn’t made of felt or carry a free badge, it does have a photograph on the inner of the band as plasticine figures, all ready to leap into stop-motion animation, like Morph on speed. And actually, I wonder if The Smittens might have a neat animation video squirreled away somewhere, maybe kind of like Smoosh’s super sweet vid for ‘La Pump’? I do hope so.

Seventy ­ Pellumair

It seems a little odd maybe that an album called Summer Storm (from which this track is taken) should be released in the middle of November, but with the way the weather has been here of late it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there were still the chance of summer storms on its release date. Pellumair are Southampton duo Jaymi Caplan and Tom Stanton, and the fact that this, their debut, was recorded with Bark Psychosis’ Graham Sutton at the helm should give you a good idea of where things are heading. Imagine Stuart Murdoch at his most plaintive and backed by a pared down band of ghosts and you’d be getting close to the haunted spectral swirl of Pellumair. Not that it’s all laid back whimsy. Not at all, for as the album title suggests, there are rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightning; it’s just that these are so exquisitely choreographed, so eloquently placed, it all sounds like a surround-sound spell of rare magic. Out on November 14th on the Tugboat label. Dates in diaries now, please.
Lost Property ­ Cayto

Another November release is !Blunderbus! by Glaswegian five-piece Cayto. Recorded with Geoff Allan (Franz Ferdinand, Arab Strap), this is a record of big ideas and big sounds. If it occasionally sounds a touch too desperate, then so be it. Rather desperation than dreary smug self-satisfaction, after all. Angular and awkward, breathless and brutalised, Cayto put me in mind of a torn apart Verlaines, full of that long-forgotten antipodean band’s classical inflections but infected with an exotic disease that discolours and deforms in wildly unpredictable ways. It all makes for a bloodied sound, a rampaging extreme of structured noise that confuses and delights in equal measure. And whilst it’s not exactly pretty, it’s damnably infectious.

Out There - Majessic Dreams

Complete change of pace now for the tail of the mix, and this track comes courtesy of Majessic Dreams from their eponymous album on Oscillatone Recordings. Housed in a gorgeous fold out paper sleeve decorated in dreamy coloured scribbles, this is a record of naturally strange electronic drone-folk made by a Denmark based Swedish duo about whom I know next to nothing, which is the way it ought to be. Such mysterious music needs shrouded, cloaked creators, after all. The album oddly puts me in mind of Felt’s classic Pictorial Jackson Review in its structure, and if it were on vinyl it would similarly be one side of almost Pop songs, backed with another side of a single lengthy atmospheric piece. That the 34 minute ‘Majessic Dream’ is no instrumental is only a slight sidetrack to the comparison, but with Jessica’s disembodied voice floating atop drones and glitches, it’s no less a beautiful emotional journey than Duffy’s ‘Sending Lady Load’. Quirky and beguiling, the sound of Majessic Dreams is certainly one to treasure.

Bridestones Revisited - The Montgolfier Brothers

Closing, as we started, with an instrumental, this time courtesy of The Montgolfier Brothers. From the Journeys End EP that precedes the All My Bad Thoughts album on Vespertine and Son, this is a richly melodic track from a similarly full-bodied and mature set from one of the finest, quietest secrets in English contemporary music. Like July Skies, the Montgolfier Brothers’ tap into an all but forgotten source of mediated history, in the process projecting imaginary memories that are bruised, blue and soaked in late night wine supping sweet melancholia. With a nod to the likes of Michael Nyman, Vini Reilly or Michel Legrand (and incidentally, look out for the reissue of Legrand’s marvellous Le Jazz Grand set on Cherry Red’s subsidiary Jazz label Fivefour) The Montgolfier Brothers sound like well travelled and well read souls both world weary and quietly delighted in that weariness. It’s a difficult mixture to master, but Mark Tranmer and Roger Quigley do it to perfection.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett