Music for Breakfasts

It’s been an April to remember for so many reasons, most of them wrapped up in the memories of sunshine mornings and afternoons spent in gardens and in parks. Breakfasts soundtracked by the sounds of birdsong or the thrill of an iPod mix. Afternoon’s spent with nothing much more than the sound of an acoustic guitar, the thrill of an old favourite song drifting down the road, or a hammering heart and a mouth full of marbles. So with a caffeine fuelled Sunday spurt (love comes in them, don’t you know), here is the story of some of those sounds.

'Holidays in the Sun' - Artichoke - Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols by...

What do you do with an album that has attained canonical status as an unimpeachable icon of Punk Rock? Why, you remake it in the mould of pastoral anti-folk for the twenty first century, of course. Now I have fond memories of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. My friend Graeme skipped school on the day of its release to buy it. He was barely eleven years old. We spent the winter talking about A Clockwork Orange and playing it to death, and though I didn’t understand why exactly, I knew it moved me in ways that Abba records never could. Now I haven’t played it in years and have no desire to do so, but I can see the spring slipping past with the talk now being of The Band Of Outsiders and this version by Artichoke playing to death. And has it really been thirty years?

And thinking about it that way of course, how thrilling it is to think that there might be some for whom the original album might remain but a rusty old artefact best kept buried deep in the slime of history, and to whom this Artichoke version might become the de-facto blueprint. The soiled safety pinned beast of the past usurped by acoustic troubadours frolicking in pastoral picnic bliss. Quiet is the new loud. Again.

'Bluebell Meadow' - Celestial - Dream On
'(lack of) love will tear us apart' - The Honeydrips - single

Speaking of quiet being the new loud again, if we juggle that concept for a moment then we would surely have to admit also that one cannot live by bread alone, and that there’s a time and a place for everything. And though I struggle to cope with too much of Celestial’s brittlesweet feyness and candyfloss dreams in one sitting, there is something heart achingly splendid in this song in isolation, or indeed slipped within this particular mix. Bluebell meadows I am sure conjure so many memories for so many people. I guess that’s why it works as a song. It’s one of those springtime constants that everyone experiences. So for me, I’m thinking Dundonald woods in the spring of 1984, a walk to the castle in the early evening with heads misting over filled with cider and dreams of Victoria eyes. Scott and Jon and me escaping from wherever we felt entombed, sending our thoughts out to everywhere and nowhere, looping out into the country for no other reason than that it was there; a sweet interlude before the beckoning oblivion of night. The bluebells shimmered in the falling light whilst the castle crumbled above us with over six centuries of memories, haunted by the glue sniffing punks who hurled stones at us as we cycled through the village. These days it has a tearoom and a visitor’s centre and though I have not been in those woods for over twenty years I am sure that the bluebells bloom there still, and I am sure that our own ghosts walk the paths, dreaming of the lives we never lived.

I’m sure that we played ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ that night in 1984. We usually did. Well, Scott and I usually did, sometime before or after we would spin the entire Distant Shore album a couple of times. Inevitably we would be emotionally overwrought, which is teenage code for stinking drunk of course, and we would wallow in our failure to make any kind of progress with the girls at the party. Maybe it was because we never really tried in the first place. Success is mostly about self-belief, after all, and we had none of that, so what was the point? We had our records and that was what mattered most. Maybe it still is.

So these Swede’s who call themselves The Honeydrips of course make gleeful reference to the old Joy Division artefact, but in the way of these times they make a glorious dubby tweelectropop masterpiece, and it’s so glorious that I’ve had it on repeat for days. In my head it is playing on that hillside of my dreams and I’m dancing the Indiekid to it with Annna Karina, sun spiralling out of control in the cornflower sky and the bay glistening a mile below. You can keep your new rave rubbish, for this is the sound of the new summer of love; a contemporary daydream of a time when some of us remember flustering helplessly into love with beats and grooves, when a Neil Young song suddenly made sense and when a brighter dream of a new tomorrow seemed possible. Maybe the kids are alright after all. At least in Sweden. And at least some of them…

This single is from their Here Comes The Future set, which is out now on the Tough Alliance’s sensational Sincerely Yours label. It really is close to being the perfect record label, and I am fiercely in love with their aesthetic. Hell, if I had 350 euros to spare I’d even be tempted to buy one of their bulletproof vests. And speaking of The Tough Alliance, have you got their First Class Riot 7” ordered yet? Catch the video on the label website and prepare to fall in love. Again.

'Call For Papers (Ian Catt Mix)' - Alsace Lorraine - Dark One

Gosh, I should be digging out some press release details about these records instead of boring you all to tears with my personal memories and idiot visions, but you know life is too short and the Geek Lair in such a dreadful mess that such things are not going to happen. I can however tell you that this cut is from the Dark One set on Darla and that it is gorgeous, glamorous pop as you would expect from anything involving Ian Catt. To be fair to Alsace Lorraine, there is another mix of this tune on the album and it is very nearly as breezy as this one. Elsewhere there is a Robin Guthrie mix of another track, but as this is a Darla release maybe that’s no surprise, and though inevitably you can cast the word ‘shoegaze’ or ‘dreampop’ idly in their direction, Alsace Lorraine are actually way more Pop than dream, and this is a fine, fine set to soundtrack your spring cleans.

'Idyllwyld' - Trembling Blue Stars - The Last Holy Writer

Now I was in The Plant for breakfast yesterday. I didn’t even need to order. They knew exactly what I was going to have. Persian Baked Eggs and a black coffee. So, depending on how positive or not I feel about the world, either I am so predictable it hurts, or I just know what I like. Today it feels like I just know what I like, and I know I like Persian Bakes Eggs and black coffee. I also know I like Trembling Blue Stars. So I’m one of those old and crumbly enough to have followed Bobby Wratten’s career through the last two decades, from the astonishing trembling beauty of the first Field Mice records through the Northern Picture Library and into the Trembling Blue Stars. And if it is still those Field Mice songs that mean the most, then surely that is simply down to context and personal memories. Sue me.

But actually that is grossly unfair, because there are moments in all of Wratten’s body of work that can floor me with a single line or a simple refrain. And indeed, though it may be heretical to say so in some circles, I’d wager that songs like ‘Abba On The Jukebox’, ‘Never Loved You More’ or ‘Helen Reddy’ are at least as good as the finest of the Field Mice. Is it a bit like admitting that maybe, just maybe, you really do prefer those Denim records to Felt?

Whatever, on this set, it’s the uplifting ‘Idyllwyld’ that really connects the most, with Beth’s vocals seducing me in such an effortless a way that I quake and fall flat on my back to the grass. The apple blossom falls from the tree and I feel the midnight softness of arms touching in the dark. The world spins just a little faster and I want to cry at the way time plays such cruel tricks on us.

Beth sings of shivering at the sound of a song on the radio and of photographs that break her heart. Amen to that. Amen to that, indeed.

'A Kind Of Loving' - At Swim Two Birds - Returning To The Scene Of The Crime...
'Sunrays' - Innerise - Western Sky Music

Slowing right down now with the sound of Roger Quigley’s Flann O’Brian inspired solo act and Innerise’s blissful techno drift. Quigley is perhaps known best to most as one half of the very fine Montgolfier Brothers, but with this new solo set he casts his net even further back in time to re-interpret some of his older solo material. Now I don’t remember how I came into possession of it, but I have had a copy of Quigley’s A Kind Of Loving CD on the Croissant Neuf label in my collection for many, many years. I always had a bit of a soft spot for it, though remember feeling at the time somewhat as I do now about the likes of Celestial. A little goes a long way, and all that. I feel a bit the same about At Swim Two Birds, for whilst these remakes of the originals are beautiful downbeat delights, a whole collection can just feel a little too much. Of course it’s also entirely possible that it’s just the sunshine and this summertime’s obsessions that mean I’m finding it difficult to focus on a whole collection of downbeat gems. That’s just how it goes.

Innerise meanwhile inhabit the Make Mine Music universe of blessed out technopop, and 'Sunrays' is my highlight cut from their beguiling Western Sky Music set. Again, like with The Honeydrips, this track casts its nets back in time to those years where we were so in thrall to A Man Called Adam when they dreamed of walking barefoot in the head, when Les Iles Baleares wasn’t just a Pro-Tour cycling team and when maybe The Beloved were making us think of the sun rising. Innocent times, perhaps, or perhaps that is just the patina of age getting in the way. Whatever, it’s good to escape into our own worlds sometimes, and this is a fine way to do so.

'When the Sun Grows on Your Tongue' - Black Moth Super Rainbow - Dandelion Gum
'Today Has Been Bright' - Erik De Vahl - Oh! My Spine

I remember Kevin writing in the past about how he always loved it when there was a new Autechre album. You always knew that whatever the new nuances that might be found, it was always going to be an Autechre album. I felt the same way, though have drifted away from them over the years, and are they still making records?

I have felt the same way about Black Moth Super Rainbow too, and I am delighted that they have a new set ready to soar over the summer, casting psychedelic shadows on the land below. Like Autechre, BMSR have seen no need to reinvent their wheels, and instead spend their time refining and tweaking their formula into new yet familiar shapes. So there are the treated vocals that sound like something from some strange 1970s sci-fi movie or disco record; there are the squelching analogue synths that beam in on a trajectory from Peter Thomas’ sixties sound labs; there is the dense Spector production compressing everything into a magical morass of noise from which emerge delicious melodies and dizzyingly magical refrains. BMSR are the sound of a madcap vision of the retro-future dreamed in Technicolor and filmed in Panavision; are psychedelic pranksters peddling the wares of idiot savants from the roofs of magic buses lost in the timewarp of a post-modern suburban hinterland. Which means they sound superbly unhinged and sensationally unkempt.

As ever, I keep wondering if this will be the record that will get them the attention they really and truly deserve. And as ever, I secretly know that the rest of the world is just not that switched on. But hey, sometimes it’s good to have your secrets, right?

Erik De Vahl’s Oh! My Spine set might stay a secret too, as there are only one hundred copies being made apparently. This is good, as it means that only a hundred of us will know just how terrific his quirky techno really is. This cut makes so much sense following on from BMSR, and I swear that in some parallel universe they are teamed up as some kind of tag-team of psych-electro wrestling team, overthrowing the orthodox techno overlords. Oh, and guess what? He’s Swedish…

'Tandem Bikes' - The Lovekevins - Vs. The Snow

And on the subject of Swedes, they do not get much more delectable than The Lovekevins. I’ve written about this lot several times before of course, ever since their ‘Hate The English’ 7” appeared back in March 2005. Sheesh, how time flies indeed. They have developed a lot as a group in that two years, and their debut The Lovekevins versus The Snow set is a treat and a half to be sure. I’ve said it a million times in the past and will no doubt continue to say it, but there is something about certain contemporary Swedish artists which manages to blend an obsession with independent Pop with some magically warped notion of a 1980’s Europop mainstream aesthetic. It’s difficult to pin down, but it’s something that could never come out of the UK, for here our groups are still too hung up on the illusory notion of authenticity, be that in the context of Rock, Soul, Folk or that strange beast ‘Urban’. I hear little UK Pop that appears to be comfortable with notions of middle-class glamour; they are all still desperate to make out as though they come from the council estates. And maybe they do. I got so bored of it so long ago. I just cannot imagine UK groups having the delightful nerve to sing songs about anoraks, Eurovision, Tamagotchi or indeed tandem bikes without them coming over all ironic or uber-twee. That The Lovekevins manage to do so with such style and panache is to their credit. That they do it with such stirring and charming tunes is the clincher on the deal. Now I know I have said this many times in the past, but Lovekevins on this record really DO remind me of the fantastic Sophie and Peter Johnston. Don’t believe me? Well, take this tip and go buy the three CD set that Peter is offering on his website. It’s a fabulous site, and there is an excellent quote in there about how all they wanted to do was “to make the most scintillating, uplifting, carefree, joyous pop tunes that we could”. I like to think if you pinned the Lovekevins down they’d say the same.

'Girl At The Bus Stop' - BMX Bandits - I Would Write A Thousand Words: A Tribute To The Television Personalities (volume two)
'Around The World In An 80's Daze' - The Pathways - Gray Blaze

What memories do you have of BMX Bandits? And what memories of The Television Personalities? I think I have  talked about my memories of BMX Bandits before. The 'Rosemary Ledingham' song, and the article in Coca Cola Cowboy. God, that is so long ago, it is terrifying. I am not sure why I never really followed them after that though. Perhaps because the Glasgow scene seemed so incestuous and so full of impenetrable cliques. Whatever. I have loved the last few Bandits albums, and this cover for volume two of The Beautiful Music label’s Tribute to The Television Personalities series is a peach. Elsewhere on the album there are the likes of Phil Wilson, Swell Maps, The Legend! and a poignant version of ‘I Could Write Poetry’ from Nikki Sudden. Tribute albums can be such messy things generally, but there's more than enough here to make it worth your while.

The Pathways have not done a TVP’s cover, but one can’t help but feel that they are the kind of group who would make a terrific contribution to a future volume. Certainly their Gray Blaze album for the handsome Asaurus label out of Athens, Georgia, is a gem. Pathways are of course one of those groups I once wrote about as being a part of a Brooklyn Pop renaissance, and there is more than enough evidence here to suggest that they are continuing in that vein. Like their label mates Pants Yell!, the Pathways blend angular post-punk aesthetics with a melodic charm that twists and turns in your heart like the delectable pain of a sharpened candy cane. It’s tension that makes for great Pop, after all. The Pathways play with exquisite dynamics, build their songs piece by piece into what sound like perfect handmade little artefacts that exude the spirit of Arts and Crafts modernism. Highly recommended.

'Girls And Love' - Lonely Boy - Lonely Boy And Other Tragedies
'Smashing On Love' - Rocket Uppercut - This Beautiful Tragedy
'A Cure For Every Ailment' - Captain Polaroid - Other Short Stories And Better Works Of Fiction

Closing off with three tracks from the Filthy Little Angles label. Lonely Boy is former Hefner player Antony Harding doing more of his solo material, this time putting music to poetry by Norwegian poet and cartoonist Elvind Kirkeby. It’s heartfelt, innocent and ever so slightly fey stuff that is almost apologetically charming and none the worse for that. In a world of brash confidence without depth, that is something to cherish to be sure.

Rocket Uppercut meanwhile provide us with maybe the most rocking moment on the whole mix. I have to admit that the album as a whole kind of passed me by, as rocking things tend to do these days, but I have to agree with Neil Jones’ review from a year ago that ‘Smashing On Love’ is a fine slice of noisy Teutonic post-punk pop rampage. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And Captain Polaroid? Stimulating no-fi songs about corrupt governments, dying romances, holy wars and social awkwardness. All the fun of the teenage into twenties years then.

And so the caffeine wears off and the music dissipates into the air, slipping through fingers and off to the clouds, to the sun, to the stars and the infinite void. Someone somewhere is listening to the same songs and making their own dreams up. Maybe one day the moments will mingle, or will simply drift further and further apart, forever lost and strangely lonely, like the separated twin you never knew. But that’s fine. There are always new songs, always new moments. And there’s always tomorrow’s breakfast.

© 2007 Alistair Fitchett