On Pepperbox Hill  
Given my established predilection for Swedish Pop, it’s perhaps surprising that nothing popped up on side one of this current mix. Perhaps surprising too that the opener of side two is the only Swedish number to make it in. Sure, there were other contenders, notably The Radio Dept and their new Pet Grief set, and Sambassadeur from their lovely Coastal Affairs EP, but hey, I had to actually buy those records (heaven forbid!), so in the battle for space they sadly missed out. Instead, the Swedish contingent is represented by the very fabulous Otur! Now Otur! is the brainchild of one Emma Bates, a 22 year old from Malmo who has already worked with the likes of Honeydrips and the god-like Jens Lekman, and ‘Isolated Case’ kicks off her Pepperbox Hill set for Vapen and Godis. It’s a sensational opener for a stunning debut album, and marks out Bates as a name to watch for sure. The Otur! sound is one of perfect sunkissed electropop; the sound of dancefloor pleasure trips for the painfully aware. It’s the sound of Bridget Riley stripes oscillating their colour in time to the beat of the heart of song that emanates from the extended electronic networks that bind us together in these times of accelerated virtualities. At times it all even begins to echo with the atmosphere of A Man Called Adam, with Emma coming over as some kind of sweet sister to Sally Rodgers, and that’s not something I say lightly or often. Quite simply, Pepperbox Hilllooks well set to be one of my favoured records of summer. Let’s just hope the weather chooses to match its mood.

Next up is the Four Tet mix of Jamie Lidell’s ‘The City’, which comes from Warp’s ‘Additions’ 12” accompaniment to the excellent Multiply album of 2005. Living in the depths of the Devon countryside, I thought it was a nice ironic touch to have two songs called ‘The City’ in the mix this month. But Lidell’s couldn’t be further from the spirit of the Schengen number if it tried. Sure, both employ electronics, but Lidell’s use is altogether more unhinged, rooted less in electro-ambience and more in the deranged disco of, say, the late ‘70s and early ‘80s New York No Wave scene. Which is to be applauded of course.
Now I’ve always felt there is something filmic about Lidell’s work, as though it were soundtracking some strange Rococo styled movie of a wildly extravagant disco futurepast where the characters all look like a bizarre cross between costumed superhero’s and be-quiffed James Chance soul boys. What more excuse is needed then to follow ‘The City’ with Anton Karras’ classic Harry Lime theme from The Third Man. Instantly memorable, this zither piece is one of a series of fine cuts from Volume One of the Music From The Films of Orson Welles set that El have put together. You also get tracks from Jane Eyre, and notably the Bernard Herrmann conducted ‘Welles Raises Kane’ suite which, perhaps confusingly, is a confection of music from Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. Well, whatever, it’s quite wonderful in a Gay Nineties kind of a way, filled with more naiveté than an album of Talulah Gosh songs. El certainly seem to be pushing the cinematic connections to the hipster jigsaw puzzle, with the Welles set being followed swiftly by Volume One of Music From The Films Of Marlon Brando and Songs From The Films of Doris Day (1948-55). Some say they don’t see the connection between the El label that released the likes of The Would Be Goods and The King Of Luxembourg and this current reincarnation, but I don’t think they are looking carefully enough. For the current batches of re-issued gems really were much of the source material for those ‘80s releases, and people really were digging those kinds of films and pulling threads of inspiration from them. It’s great to see these source texts so readily (and cheaply) available.

The Karas track in fact kicks off a whole section of reissue action on my mix and is followed in quick succession by tracks from two more El packages. Firstly The Four King Cousins offer up their cover of Brian Wilson’s classic ‘God Only Knows’ which is surely one of the most perfectly formed pieces of art ever created. The Four King Cousins (daughters of the famous King Sisters) do it justice too, with a sublime sunshine pop harmony treatment that ranks up there with the likes of The Free Design and The Association. This comes from the classy David Axelrod produced Introducing… set from the late ‘60s, and is essential summer pop listening.

Then there’s the sound of The Hi-Lo’s, a vocal group from the ‘50s and early ‘60s who blended Doo-Wop, Jazz and Pop to create something that in turn would inspire and influence the likes of The Beach Boys, The Mamas and The Papas and Manhattan Transfer. The Listen! album was originally released in 1954 and is a glorious memento of a simpler time, when sophisticated, intellectual artistry dressed in suits and ties and sounded smooth and immensely seductive. And in light of the fact that time-travel seems as elusive as ever, records like this are the closest you’ll get to immersing yourself in that marvellous vibe. Oh and mine’s a Tom Collins, thanks for asking.
Doc Pomus, meanwhile, beams in from the other side of the picket fence with his ‘Good Pot’ from the Blues In The Red set. Pomus was most famously a classic songwriter of the early Pop era, writing and co-writing such notables as ‘Teenager In Love’, ‘Can’t Get Used To Losing You’, ‘Viva Las Vegas’, ‘’Save The Last Dance For Me’ and ‘A Mess Of Blues’. That’s some track record! This Rev-Ola collection however showcases the lesser known recording history of Pomus, and is a treat of risqué blues, jump up jazz and screaming rock’n’roll. Ace.

The Telescopes continue the drug theme with their ‘Perfect Needle’. Now I should say right away that I never really rated The Telescopes. They were a part of the Spacemen 3 / Loop axis of psychedelic rock in the late 1980s but I always found them lacking and anyway, of that scene it was really only Loop who were of interest to me as they immersed themselves in ever greater sonic experimentations. Their peers meanwhile seemed interested only in taking their risks with hard drugs. And whilst this, and the other tracks on the Taste set now sound divertingly, darkly pretty, they show The Telescopes to be nevertheless hopelessly rooted in a r’n’r drug mythology that was always bland and tedious at best.

Australia’s The Triffids were always heavily rooted in an r’n’r mythology too, but theirs was noticeably more intriguing and for me at least nodded at more intriguing reference points. There was something ineffably beguiling about the way in which they conjured the vastness of their homeland as well, and a song like ‘Wide Open Road’ always seemed to me to be a perfect Pop moment, joyously in tune with classic themes of loss and movement, effortlessly marrying evocation of geography with a sense of being thoroughly outside of time and place. The already much missed Grant McLennan’s ‘Cattle And Cane’ was rightly voted one of the ten finest Australian songs of all time, but I think that ‘Wide Open Road’ or any one of a dozen Triffids songs, could make an equally valid claim to being in that list. Indeed, there would be another nine songs merely from the Born Sandy Devotional set that ‘Road’ comes; each of them the sound of a group at the top of their game, a group in tune with their heritage yet making something new and startling from that melange of influences. The Triffids were always hopelessly, magnificently romantic, like Dylan obsessed souls searching for heaven in the light of the skies, the depths of the forest and the blacktop stretching into the distance. The Triffids were beautiful losers, Beat poets, soulful kids in search of the heart of song, and I loved them dearly. All of which means I cannot recommend highly enough the Domino sponsored series of reissues which this kicks off. Snap them up, play them loud in the summer heat and clutch the memories they spark to your heart forever.
And how could I resist following ‘Wide Open Road’ with a song called ‘Eyes On The Road’? Well, obviously I couldn’t, for here come New Yorks’ The Fever with a cut from their In The City Of Sleep set for the Kemado label. There’s more than a nod in the title to draw The Fever to The Triffids too, for both bands share a similarity to, say, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. With The Triffids of course The Bad Seeds were contemporaries growing up and developing their own ways through and out of their rock’n’roll world, but for The Fever it’s clear that Cave is more of an historical influence, and that’s fair enough of course, for Saint Nick has done more than many over the course of twenty odd years to push forward the narrative of Rock into intriguing avenues. Elsewhere on the album there are more manic moments as The Fever distil cocktails of exotica, in the process making a surreal nightmare of Pop that is as difficult to pin down as it is easy to find delight in.

There was always something of the epic about The Triffids, and there’s a similar echo of that in iLiKETRAiNS ‘Terra Nova’. Five minutes of simmering guitars and bohemian vocals, the single tells the story of Captain Scott’s doomed 1912 Antarctic expedition and is fittingly glacial and immense. iLiKETRAiNS seem to follow British Sea Power in mining a vein of intelligent, melodic atmospheric rock that brings to mind the likes of Kitchens Of Distinction, Crash and Ultra Vivid Scene. There is too an air of nostalgia for times gone by that goes beyond the obvious references of the songs (flip-side song ‘Fram’ concerns itself with the story of one Hjalmar Johansen, ousted from the celebrated Norwegian team that famously beat Scott and his men in their race to the Pole, whilst previous single ‘A Rook House For Bobby’ was about troubled chess grandmaster Bobby Fisher), one that conjours thoughts of July Skies’ and their beautiful takes on the memories of history stored in landscape and structure. That sense of history reverberates through the sound of iLiKETRAiNS, and it’s one that I look forward to hearing more of as their Progress, Reform mini-album follows this single in late June, again on Fierce Panda.

Now one of the records I somehow overlooked at the start of this year was Frances McKee’s gorgeous Sunny Moon album. In many ways I’m glad I did pass it over, as it’s now emerged as a perfect accompaniment to the early summer, and certainly on a track like ‘Childish Memories’ the former Vaselines member is capable of conjuring a folk sound infused with the delicate psychedelia of, say, David Roback and Kandra Smith in Opal.

Then finally, we close with the sound of Rita Lee’s ‘Amor Branco E Preto’ from the Hoje É O Primeiro Dia Do Resto Da Sua Vida collection, once again for Rev-Ola. With a totally Tropicalia sound, this early ’70s solo set saw former Os Mutantes vocalist Lee reunited with Arnaldo, Sergio Bapista and the sound of Brazilain psych-rock after an abortive stab at straight pop failed to set the charts alight. This set, however, is fantastic stuff, and with its exuberant sound of organised chaos could easily be seen as a fifth Os Mutantes album, with all that such a concept entails! Essential summer listening. Accept no substitute.

© 2006 Alistair Fitchett