One Dollar A Secret
January Listening Mix Tape - Side One  
Joe - Ponies In The Surf
The Ballad Of Jim Jones - The Left Outsides

Ponies In The Surf are one of the finest secrets of the moment, and if you doubt me then pick up a copy of their Ponies On Fire album. Sealed with a sticker that proclaims itself ‘handmade by Asaurus Records’, this is the very essence of the urban cottage industry underground. With half an eye on a mythic Beatnik coffee house folk aesthetic and another on Indiepop bedroom DIY idealism, this is the kind of charmingly cracked and quietly intense music that creeps into your psyche and haunts your memories for years. Don’t let them remain secret any longer.

So in my mind I see Ponies In The Surf as beautiful hipsters crouching in the shadows of 1960’s loft parties, dreaming of a Pop coloured gentle revolution. I see The Left Outsides in much the same context. And they are every bit as good as their American counterparts, with this cover of the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s ‘The Ballad Of Jim Jones’ being ample proof of that. Featuring Alison Cotton and Mark Nicholas of 18th Day Of May, The Left Outsides are the sound of frost on overgrown abandoned train tracks; of sepia tinted photographs and delicious nights in by the fire with an old David Crosby song on the stereo. And you don’t get much finer than that. Check out their 3" CD on I Wish I Was Unpopular.
Take Heart - Alison Statton & Spike
Vento De Maio - Nara Leao

Now I make no apologies for stating right away that I have had a trembling soft spot in my heart for Alison Statton ever since I heard the sound of her Young Marble Giants crackle over the airwaves one dark night back in the mists of time, or somewhere in 1980 at least. So Colossal Youth was one of the first proper records I ever bought, and it’s been one of those quiet, quite special artefacts filed in the treasure chest of my heart for a quarter of a century. Her post-YMG work with Weekend holds much the same hold, being a hugely important part of the soundtrack to the most essential of all my teenage years, and in many ways part of the springboard that took me from there to here, from nowhere to nowhere else but via a million and one invaluable places in-between.

Strange then that Statton’s post-Weekend material largely passed me by. I can find no reason for this other than that I was chasing down other avenues, obsessing over other voices and other sounds. For this too, I make no apologies. It’s exciting then to rediscover the two albums worth of material recorded by Statton and Spike Williams, released by those salvage experts LTM. ‘Take Heart’ comes from the 1994 Tidal Blues album, and like the other ten tracks from that set it’s a gem of rare glistening beauty. The other album, the 1997 released The Shady Tree is every bit as good, but altogether stranger, recorded as it was in sections by each party in isolation. The sense of distance lends the album an eerie sense of solitude and calm that is mesmerising. That both albums are essential purchases goes without saying. And whilst you are it, check out Statton’s late ’80s collaborations with former Ludus guitarist Ian Devine, also available on LTM.

Kurt Cobain once made a point of saying that Nirvana would record a cover of ‘Credit In The Straight World’ (they never got the chance), but in spite of this Young Marble Giants are not one of those groups that people have made a great song and dance about as being an invaluable influence, even though they undoubtedly have been. Rather, they are a group whose importance seems to be taken as read in an almost imperceptible nod of quiet acknowledgement. To do otherwise would seem somehow unfitting. Uncouth, even. For Young Marble Giants were never part of the rock’n’roll scheme. It’s gratifying to realise that, on hearing these records over a decade after the fact, Alison Statton has stayed as true to that idea as possible.

The sounds on Nara Leao’s Nara ‘67 set meanwhile could easily be recognised as key reference points to the kind of Bossa Pop Jazz that Weekend alluded to in the early ’80s. Reissued by the resurrected El label as part of an ongoing series that spotlights exotica and rare South Americana, if the 23 tracks on this set cannot raise a smile or incite you to shuffle your shoes at the very least, then you are frankly dead from the soles of your feet up.
Can't You See Me Cry - New Colony Six
She's Not Into Love - The Bank Holidays

The same could be said of your response to Chicago’s ace Soft Pop sensations The New Colony Six, who offer up another slice of late ‘60s reissue delight with a typically fantastic cut from their Treat Her Groovy collection (also on El). Fans of the likes of The Association, Left Banke or Head era Monkees will likely know already exactly that this sounds like, and will no doubt love it as much as I do. For anyone else with even a passing interest in late ‘60s orchestrated sunshine soft-psychedelia (or to anyone who just can’t resist a great song), this is a more than necessary addition to the collection.

Now I know nothing of The Bank Holidays other than what it says on the one-sheet that accompanied the copy of their Day For Night EP that dropped into my hands courtesy of a friendly Lucksmith. So they are a Perth, Australia based group with a Norwegian background who seem to share the kind of penchant for great Pop songs succinctly executed that the likes of The Shins or compatriots The Go-Betweens so perfectly encapsulate. And on this, the EP opener, they sound in the rudest of health, soaring for the bluest skies on the trail of sweeping melodies and the sweetest of honey-coated hooks. Currently available on the Lost And Lonesome label out of Australia, if the universe was less perverse this should be spinning in CD players the world over.

It’s Illegal To Frown In Pocatello - Drew Danburry
One More Parade - Pete Dale

Drew Danburry sings that ‘It’s Illegal To Frown In Pocatello’ and certainly anyone hearing this track from his Besides: Are we just playing around out here or do we mean what we say? album would find it hard to do anything but grin sheepishly and admit that this Pavement meets anti-folk meets Folk Implosion is really rather fine. Having lost any info that accompanied the album, I can give you no more details other than to suggest you check out his ubiquitous MySpace site and maybe ask him how the hell you go about snagging yourself a copy. It’s got to be worth your effort.

Pete Dale, on the other hand, I can tell you a great deal more about. For example, he’s from Newcastle; he’s the voice and guiding light behind Indiepop charmers Milky Wimpshake; he is/was the uberlord behind the legendary Slampt label; a couple of Futureheads helped his family move house (they also help out with selected accompaniment on this Betrayed By Folk record); and, uh, he likes Phil Ochs better than Bob Dylan. Which is just fine by me. And I love Bob Dylan.

No surprise then that he can’t help but cover Ochs’ brilliant ‘One More Parade’ for this set of songs for the Fortuna Pop organisation. It’s all hearts on sleeves stuff, full of musings and protestations aimed at the way we live now. You sense that Pete thinks Modern Life Is Rubbish, and whilst you can’t help but agree with his angry observations on the likes of Bob Geldof, the New Orleans Flood (Nik Cohn’s piece about the same subject in last weeks’ Observer was a piece of journalistic brilliance, incidentally), Menwith Hill (a US spy-base in North Yorkshire) et al, personally I can’t help but feel it’s all just a bit too black and white and myopically angry. Certainly it lacks the knowing wit of, say, Chris T-T’s brilliant 9 Red Songs set. That I want to like the record more than I do probably says more about me and my middle class home owning guilt than it does about the quality of the record, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Sleepydust - The Snowdrops
Saturday Looks Bad For Me ­ Oppenheimer

And now, for the return of unrepentant and unapologetic Pop sensations. What can we say about The Snowdrops? Well the hipsters amongst you no doubt already know that they consist of Keith Girdler, Pam Berry and Dick Preece, which means that they can count the likes of Blueboy, The Pines, Black Tambourine and Lovejoy as previous and current form. And if you have even a modicum of sense you will realise that such form is mighty classy. This, their new single for the Matinee label is mighty classy too, being full of lush electro inflected Indiepop full of Diana Ross dresses and dreams of Saturday night fevers. It’s the sound of breathy kisses and dreamy-eyed devotion; of The Field Mice skywriting love letters to Ellsworth Kelly; of Pet Shop Boys on Brighton pier in a video by Caravaggio. Priceless.

Similarly priceless is the five track album sampler by Oppenheimer from which this track comes. Seldom have I been so effortlessly blown away on hearing a record. It happened when I stumbled on their ‘Breakfast in NYC’ at the end of last year, and it’s repeated to the power of ten with these five tracks. On this evidence Oppenheimer are the saviours of magical Pop, making such an emotionally charged positivism it’s almost scary. With grunging guitars, spangling synths, vocals beamed in from Mars and the best ‘ba ba ba’s’ this side of the mighty Pipettes, this is the sound of all of yesterday’s tomorrow’s today. With the album due on the Bar/None label sometime in the Spring, there can be no better reason for wishing the winter days away.

© Alistair Fitchett 2006