The Lesson Of The Smiths 
“Morrissey, Marr and Barlow changed my life.” So starts the wonderful ‘The Lesson Of The Smiths’ by M.J. Hibbett and The Validators that kicks off my mix this month. From their wonderful new We Validate! set on Artists Against Success, it’s a key song on an album filled with pithy pop commentary and reference, and I love it to bits, not least because it’s a song that perfectly sums up the kind of attitude to cultural consumption I like to think I subscribe to. So with a ‘Headmaster Ritual’ bassline rumbling in the background (or ‘Marie’s The Name’, if you prefer), Hibbett highlights the pitfalls of making one’s (pop) cultural judgements on the perceived connotations of fanbase or media representation rather that the content. And whilst a little voice inside me whispers that, ah, remember context is all, and that you cannot divorce the content from the context, it’s more than ably countered by Hibbett’s rousing chorus:

“Remember the lesson of Take That. Just because a pile of pillocks pretend to like it, it doesn’t mean it’s crap. And remember the lesson of The Smiths. Just because a bunch of wankers like it, it doesn’t mean that it’s shit.”

And he has a point, particularly during the refrain about feeling the desire to walk away from the two million who walked against the war after seeing the “usual Marxo Anarchistic sods” before realising: “so what if there’s a thousand fuckwits here. Peace and Love is still a bloody good idea.” Amen to that.

Elsewhere on the album there are equally marvellous nuggets of intelligent Pop commentary, from the Indie-Whinger bashing ‘Tell Me Something You Do Like’ to the poignant reflection on the ‘80s that is ‘The Fight For History’ with its rousing chorus of “we will fight for history the day that Thatcher dies.” It’s chilling and inspirational all at once; both a warning and a call to arms to not permit false histories to erase the realities we lived through. I expect that everyone feels the same about the decades that they personally grew up through; expect that they feel the same despair and disgust at seeing the realities skewed and distorted as marketing executives strive to airbrush out the negatives and present in simplified soundbites to sell trashy retro TV shows and compilation CDs of cheesy chart pop. Well, as Hibbett sings, “I was there and I will not forget.” Amen to that as well.
Now there seems to be a glut of great Pop albums around this summer, and for some inexplicable reason I almost forgot to add the ravishingly classy Oppenheimer debut set to my list. I raved about it a while back of course, before any of you could get chance to snap it up, but it’s available now so you’ve got no damn excuse not to be cherishing its delights. If you are in the UK it’s only available as an import from the US based Bar None label, but if there is any justice in the world then some smart Euro label should be snapping it up pronto. Imagine Air if they hadn’t become so spectral and misty and laid themselves out at the altar of the Pop Hook, or ELO if they had reigned in Jeff Lynne’s infatuation with the overtly grand, and you are getting close.

I swear that if Oppenheimer were from Malmo and not Belfast, this would be on Labrador or some equally hip Swedish label and everyone would be salivating wildly whilst they gyrated around their bedrooms, truly madly deeply in love with its breathtaking grasp of melody and noise, with its space and heartache. For Oppenheimer make Pop the way it was always meant to sound; frothy, fragile, pastel shaded, neon-lit, electric, heart-broken/breaking, breakneck, throwaway, intensely memorable… and everything in-between and far beyond. Fourteen tracks, every one a highlight, every one a nugget of Pop bliss that will have you longing to be sixteen again and bursting with the unbearable lightness of being young and in love. And if you are sixteen then remember this: all the bullshit of being sixteen is only made bearable by that same unbearable lightness, so cherish it whilst you can and soundtrack it with the likes of Oppenheimer and their infectious soaraway optimism.

There’s a similar electro-pop feel to the Vichy Government’s ‘Suspended on Full Pay’ which is available as a free download from the Filthy Little Angels site/label. A bacchanalian orgy of living off the fat of the company, it’s backed by 'Whore Of Babylon', which plagiarises 'Dolly' by Microdisney. As the label website points out, this is an exceedingly cool and clever thing to do. Check out their Carrion Camping set from early this year too.
I mentioned You and The Atom Bomb’s ace single ‘Mudwig Banhoff’ in my last mix, and I’ve been so enjoying their Shake Shake Hello?! set for Sink And Stove that I couldn’t resist slotting a track into this months mix as well. ‘Behold, Coelacanth’, as far as I can tell, is a song about, well, that enormous prehistoric fish, which I’m sure is a first for the funky post-punk genre, or any other come to think of it. It’s a fabulously infectious tune as well, like Talking Heads colliding with The Shins. Yum. The rest of the album is every bit as good, as You And The Atom Bomb fuse a stop-start fractured post-punk sensibility with soft-pop ‘60s bubblegum melodies and a love of the gently psychedelic and surreal. Groovy, and then some.

Groovy in a different way are Port City, who I think hail from out of the New York area. Or from Canada. Maybe. I could be way out on that, but I’ve lost the one-sheet and can’t even track down the disc in the mayhem of my study, so I’ll have to make do with playing them off iTunes and remembering something about a note that mentioned being friendly with the very wonderful Pants Yell! and Asaurus people, and what more reason does anyone need to investigate than that? Well, the fact is that Port City make a similarly, charmingly raggedy noise to the Pants (does anyone call them that? Ooops) or indeed to the Diskettes, whose no-fi love of sparse early rock’n’roll naiveté the ‘We Don’t Add Up At All’ track also suggests. Maybe I should also mention the tremulous child-like beauty of certain Jonathan Richman songs as a reference point, or the cracked simplicity of Mo’s Velvet's songs, but heh, you know all about that already, right? Right.

Downpilot, meanwhile, are altogether more produced and lush, and as ‘Slipstream’ from their Like You Believe It set for the Tapete label ably demonstrates, there’s nowt wrong with that. The Downpilot project is headed by Seattle based Paul Hiraga, with the album featuring collaborations with the likes of drummer/producer Tucker Martine (Laura Veirs, The Long Winters), Lars Plogschties and Terry De Castro (some time Wedding Present player) and recorded in spaces between touring and other commitments. It’s all very accomplished and grown up, with songs investigating the ebb and flow of nature versus urban, reslessness versus calm. It all makes for a very filmic feel too, like a soundtrack to a road movie of imaginary travel through a media informed landscape of Americana.
There’s a similar feel to Salim Nourallah’s Beautiful Noise set (no surprise then that it’s also given a European release on Tapete). Here though there is a welcome insistence on melody over abstracted textures, a lush soft-psych vibration that softly opens up into flowers of beautiful Pop sweetness. Again, I’m put in mind of The Shins at their softest, or Of Montreal at their downbeat, charming best. A Beautiful Noise indeed.

There’s a slight change of tack for the very delectable ‘Captive In The Height Of Summer’ track by OMR, from their Superheroes Crash set on the Uncivilized World label. Here the core duo of Alex Brovelli and Virginie Krupa are joined by Thomas Dupuis on drums and Louis Pouvelle on bass, and it’s this rhythm section that really drive the songs on this album forward, providing a supple foundation on which to build the softly melancholic, motorik electronica. It all lends Superheroes Crash a fascinating mix of the human and the machine, casting a mood of sublime dreampopping atmospherics that casts half an eye backwards to a time when My Bloody Valentine first dabbled with dance beats on the Glider remix EP, or to Mogwai when they were kicking dead pigs. Superheroes Crash is a marvellously mature and accomplished album that should be floating across heat hazed rooftops and sun crisped lawns well into the autumnal coda of the year.

Now if, like me, you find the whole media circus surrounding the English soccer team’s participation in the World Cup to be stomach churningly hideous, you may want to check out The Charade’s lovely ‘Dressed In Yellow And Blue’ from their A Real Life Drama set (on Skipping Stones) as your anthem ahead of the Cologne clash against Sweden. Not that I want to be presenting myself as some idiot who wants England to lose because I happen to be originally from Scotland, or any of that crap, but hell, in the face of the barrage of media hysteria and ugly fat oafs chanting in the high street, what right minded soul wouldn’t choose yer Henrik Larson’s over yer Wayne Rooney’s? It’s like the choice between ‘Dressed In Yellow And Blue’ and whatever that godawful Embrace song is called. No contest.

And can you imagine what an English band would do with a line like “don’t you know that a goal can change your life? And that men can be forced to tears in summertime?”? It would be all beery chants and ‘Eng-er-land’ backing vocals. Ugh. In the hands of The Charade, however, it’s sprightly, super-sweet and gloriously sunkissed, just like the rest of their album. Swede’s Please, indeed.

© 2006 Alistair Fitchett