The Comfort In Being Sad

In recent months, with the seasons turning once again from fairly dark and crap to completely dark and crap, it's been a return to the dingily lovable lo-fi blackness of old friends, re-issues and some startles along the way. A big part of that has come, rather depressingly but no less validly, via MySpace. A lovely sort of linear narrative begins to emerge from this, beginning with The Butterflies Of Love, whom I made my internet friends. On the back of that, Butterfly befrienders Beat Radio got in touch with me about their forthcoming debut LP, which then was released a couple of weeks ago for FREE. So you can have it too! And you probably should, because leader Brian Sendrowitz's forte is a knack for those ridiculously lovable sorts of shadowy pop pearls born out of a serious four-track ethic and a pure need to emote. 'The Great Big Sea' is full of that sort of thing, from the propulsive reflection of 'Treetops' to the bucolic wonderment of  'Elegy'. It's wonderful, all of it. The most interesting thing about Sendrowitz's writing is the strange way in which the conventions of indie-pop are included but shoved in your face backwards, sort of wrong and skewed out of shape – essentially a recipe for the most lovable kind of heartbreak. With strength to spare, Sendrowitz sounds broken but not beaten; these songs are all about personal and emotional repressions. As he said in an interview I did with him a few weeks ago: 'I mean, I did go to Catholic school for 12 years. Honestly, it's not something I've ever been conscious of, but it makes sense. I used to be really obsessed with writing these sort of coming of age, following your dreams kind of songs.' It shows, and it's in no way a bad thing. When he squeals about his loves, they don't sound mawkish in a way that a lesser performer would make them appear. Sendrowitz is so ingratiated with his subjects that it is unthinkable that he doesn't subscribe to them six thousand percent. It's his way or a shimmering path back to mediocrity – this, simply, is an album that represents the state of the indie-pop art.

The MySpace narrative continues. The fellow who plays guitar and keyboards for Beat Radio, a man named Philip Jimenez, makes up fifty percent of Easy Anthems, a husband and wife duo with some dark and bouncy folk-pop coursing through them where once Nick Cave (for the dark bits) and Yo La Tengo (for the bouncy bits) dwelt. Apparently nursing their first LP into life for impending release, Easy Anthems tread the line between menace and fluttering beauty rather perfectly. Their MySpace tracks really are a joy: 'Go Back To Pittsburgh' in particular contains a thrillingly obtrusive violin entry about half way through that seems to topple the world off its axis somewhat. It's not that obtrusive, actually, but it certainly is thrilling. It's something about how it just seeps into the sound like a knife into a crusty cake. The harmonies created because of it are completely elemental. They can surely have no physical presence, being that brazenly flighty and ethereal. Easy Anthems have battled together and apart, against each-other as much as anyone else (having been through togetherness, time apart and the birth of their child), which gives the songs a magnificently loaded context. It is impossible not to scrutinise every single word they say, and that’s a magic pop spell that only certain artists can cast. Make sure you're among the first to get hold of their self-titled debut when it emerges rather soon…

Still in the virtual world, unfortunately, I managed to gain access (legitimately) to Pavement's expanded reissue of Wowee Zowee (thanks Matador!). Of course, it still sounds great.We know this. The swagger, the pedal-steel, the jazz, the fuzz, the expansion. But the extra tracks are where it's at. Joyously, we are treated to some live versions of songs from previous album 'Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain', which are as serious and hilarious as Pavement always were, but with added banter. And, even more interestingly, Pavement seem to have written that song by the Strokes that sounds like Batman before they ever did! Honest! Listen to Flux=Rad! Those Stroke fellas have got some explaining to do. But back to the bonus bits. It's exhaustive to say the least: they've thrown in B-Sides to 'Rattled By The Rush', an old EP, Lamacq session tracks, even 'Sensitive Euro Man' from the 'I Shot Andy Warhol' soundtrack. All of it is still utterly listenable, compulsive even. Those live versions, particularly 'Heaven Is A Truck', are gloriously silly and punishing and brilliantly spangly all at once, maybe some sort of pardoning of Malkmus' latter day sin of all that stupid perfectionism. Whatever the state of Malkmus today, Wowee Zowee is one of those 'cripes, forgot how good that is' records, one that can't really be dimmed by anything so tame and pointless as time passing. No, this one'll hang around forever thanks to this kind of delve into the record's heart.

Finally, finally we come to a record you can actually hold in your hands rather than one that causes you to flounder about waiting for Windows Media Player to load and tell you what the hell you're listening to. Sodastream have been going for ten whole years, rather amazingly. If, like this guy writing, you have an eternally confused mental grey area over whether or not progression is all that important if the songs are still amazing, you will have a tough time with their new record, 'Reservations' (Fortuna POP!). More than a tough time, actually, I'd call it a battle for acceptance. I own a million Teenage Fanclub records, and they all sound the fucking same and I still fucking love them, so this shouldn't really matter to me, correct? Kind of… 'Reservations' is wonderful, to get the conclusion out of the way, but it took some time for that realisation to sink in. It's a tremendously sickening noise that they make, imbued with such delicate strokes throughout that its hard not to fucking love it. Theirs is a sound that goes beyond simple placing of sounds next to one another in a pleasing manner, it's something to do with the way the vocals softly coo at you when the aesthetic potential is there to completely flatten a listener with scathing hollers about the drunken night where our hero ends up in the nick ('Firelines'). The simple fact is that there isn't any need for these extroversions when an intimation will suffice and, in many cases, surpass. With Stuart Murdoch-esque vocals and the sounds of Nick Drake cosying by the fire, 'Reservations' manages to acknowledge it heritage and still be rather abrasively refreshing. And in such a quiet way.

Speaking of quiet subversion, there has been a lot of muttering about the new album from Devastations, 'Coal' (Brassland Records), and the general level of collaborations and staggering live credentials (tours with Tindersticks and Cat Power, a recent addition to the ATP line-up). And for the most part it's justified. The first thing you hear is the dark baritone of Conrad Standish pulsing through the first phrase of 'Sex and Mayhem' in a fashion not too dissimilar to the opening of Silver Jews 'American Water' LP. Which is definitely good. That Devastations have collaborated with Rowland S. Howard from The Birthday Party comes as no surprise at all. The tried and tested expression of immense sadness through quiet bluesy sound strokes is the trade of both artists and testament to their individual calibre. Similarly, that Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has described the band as her new favourite depression-mongers is not at all a shock. The main advantage Devastations seem to have is an odd blemished quality. As their name might suggest, they truly are the sound of broken lives illuminated by what sounds like one of its chief advocates. To paraphrase Dana Carvey, if this album was an ice-cream flavour, it would be pralines and melancholia. The Nick Cave-esque balladry stops briefly for a (comparatively) light piece of Bond theme frippery on 'A Man Of Fortune', featuring a rather sterling contribution from Aussie superstar Bic Runga. It’s not exactly Cave and Minogue, that’s for sure. With songs as good as the staunch and professionally brilliant ones assembled on 'Coal', expect to be seeing an awful lot more of Devastations and their travelling exorcisms of stricken violence and beauty. For the winter months approaching, this album will take you further down than you might be comfortable with. And that, friends, is probably quite healthy.

Daniel Ross