NEW BAND OF THE WEEK
OK, well the New Band Of The Day thing didn't quite work out. There was no just no way I could keep up with looking after my boys and updating the blog. But I do want to keep this going, so here's the new look, all singing, all dancing New Band Of The Week blog. I'll be writing about a new band every week. However! If I feel like it, I'll write about more than one band a week. Oh yes. Just you try and stop me, copper. It's crazy talk, but it's too late to stop now.
March 30th: Band 26 - 4 Bonjour's Parties
I don't know why I haven't been updating this. It hasn't been for lack of bands to write about - they've come and gone, sauntered into view, blown up big, and then imploded, one after another, while I've been on hiatus. Almost five months between this post and the last one. There's no decent explanation for it, so I won't offer one. Let's crack on.
4 Bonjour's Parties are from Tokyo, number seven, and appear to live in a world of their own. They're gently psychedelic, in the same way that a melting ice-cream is gently psychdelic, or a sudden snow storm is gently psychedelic. Look at them in the photo I've lovingly stolen from their myspace - imagine them trudging through the park with their props, sure of their endeavour, even though the sky isn't quite as blue as it could be, and the grass really isn't as green as they hoped. No matter: one of their number owns very red shoes. There is a teapot. They have a standard lamp. We all know where we are.
The band they remind me most of is Bristol's Arctic Circle. They have that same loose collective feel to them, that sense that even though there's a huge amount of musical talent on hand here, they're not afraid to be playful and instinctive and impetuous. There are moments in their songs where they're conjuring up the folkie rural idyll of legend, all lilting brass and delicate woodwind arrangements; and others where it suddenly becomes apparent that there's a definite post-rock agenda and direction being followed here. And I mean direction in its most literal sense: this is music that feels like it's headed somewhere specific. Point over there, away from where you were expecting. They're going that way.
They have an album called "Pigments Drift Down To The Brook", which seems nicely appropriate. I don't really know what they mean, but I know exactly what they mean. It's good to be doing this again.
Anyway. I was vaguely aware of Pelle's old band, Edson, even if I did tend to mix them up with Nixon for no good reason at all (check out Nixon here - http://www.myspace.com/nixonpop), but even I couldn't be befuddled by "Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls". A hand-clappy, hip-shaky, trumpet-blowy, clever-clever-and-I-know-it delight of a single, it bounced onto the planet with a fully marked dance card and a note from its mother explaining that it was OK for Pelle to rip off Belle & Sebastian today because his hamster had been ill. Or something. As they used to say back when people to used to make a living - a living! - out of blowing affectionate raspberries at the hit parade or nearest equivalent.
I played the song at the club, fairly regularly. People would ask: "Is that Belle & Sebastian?" I'd reply: "No, it's Pelle Carlberg." Oh, how we laughed. Two years later, we have a new album to contend with. It still has that sick note from its mother, even if it is looking a little dog-eared now, although it's also picked up similar sick notes mentioning Jens Lekman, The Clientele and a host of other pop heroes and heroines. Which might be annoying in less endearing and accomplished hands, but Pelle posesses an irresistable pop zing (a pop zing!) and a ramshackle charm that makes you care less about who first put these chords in exactly this order and care more about where the nearest dancefloor may be.
Even though this is slickly written and recorded and performed, it's its vague air of amateurishness that really delights. You wouldn't answer your critics with a song called "1983 (Pelle & Sebastian)" unless you'd sidestepped cool for good and ended up in the Class Of "Will This Do?" inhabited by Jonathan Richman and Herman Dune. And you wouldn't have that song include an awkward spoken monologue about a made-up youth unless you thought the best way to recall the awkwardness of youth was to actually relive it. Or, while we're on the subject, you wouldn't make one of the highlights of your album a three and a half minute letter of complaint to Ryan Air unless you were happy to throw up your hands and admit: "This is all I am."
If it appears like you need a degree in irony to appeciate Pelle Carlberg, then that's my fault not his. "The Lilac Time" - that's the name of the new album - is fresh faced and open-hearted and packed to the gills with sparkle and life, and you'll love it as much for how the songs are delivered as how they sound. I haven't seen him live yet, but - hey - what do you know - we're putting on a show in London in November, so come and watch Pelle say "Ian, what the hell was the review about? Do you really think that some giddy ramble was the right way to re-animate your blog after such a long time away?", and see if the pieces don't all just suddenly slot together.
July 28th: Band 24 - The Just Joans
strictly a new band, but I want to spend this week talking about the
bands that I saw at Indietracks and it would be wrong not to include
my runaway highlight of the festival. Probably the thing I enjoyed
the most about this year's Indietracks wasn't the new outdoor stage
or the tea tent next to that or the fact that 1000 people turned up
this time rather than last year's 300, but the many impromptu gigs
that sprung up wherever you looked. Bands played surprise shows on
the station platform, in the tea tent, wherever it felt right to gather
a small amount of people and launch into song. If you kept your eyes
and your ears open or had luck on your side, you could actually catch
all of the bands that you'd missed earlier in the day.
First off, I had no idea that Katie was in the group. I'd met Katie at Little Leagues in Glasgow, and at HDIFs in London, and she was responsible for the stunning artwork on the inside of the Butcher Boy CD booklet. So really I should have known that she was in a band now. Secondly, I'd heard a song a while ago by The Just Joans, and hadn't been that impressed - they seemed to be another troupe in the vein of The Bobby McGees, and I wasn't sure there was room in the world for another one of those (how could you possibly compete?). But a more recent track "Bellshill Station" had seemed better, so I thought I might as well stick around.
They did two songs I think. "Hey Boy You're Oh So Sensitive" was dreamy and sardonic at the same time, the male singer's wry drawl contrasting with Katie's gorgeous, almost siren like voice. And "What Do We Do Now?" is quite simply the best song I've heard all year (that wasn't on the new Butcher Boy album - more about that another time!). My worry about the Just Joans was that they could be funny but not heartfelt - that you'd laugh along but little else. But this is as heartbreaking and emotional as anything by. say, Arab Strap - and as lost and melancholic too.
It's a straightforward story. The singer has moved away from his hometown. He's drifted away from the places and the people he'd grown up with. But he hasn't found anything to replace them with. So he's tried to get back in touch, but it's too late - the moment's passed, time has shuffled onwards. And he's just left wondering where he is and what he's going to do now, while Katie's counting the years passing behind him ("21...22..."). And it's just stunning. One of those songs that connects straight away, that captures something we all must experience at one point or another.
Losing touch, with friends from home
I only go home twice a year
What do we do now?
An awkward pause on the end of the line
What do we do now?
Do you still drink down the local?
Band 23 - Let's Whisper
A year and a half and another baby later, and our skin is even thinner (I stayed for all of "Children Of Men" by the way, and was glad I stuck it out. There were a few holes but it looked spectacular). But we figure we can handle "Juno" on DVD at home. And we can. It's sweet and funny, with loud out loud dialogue in places, and two endearing leads in Juno and Bleeker. And, of course, there's all those wonderful Kimya Dawson songs, as sweet and funny and tender as the movie they soundtrack. There's something about the way Kimya sings, as intimate as a whisper sometimes, that feels straightforward and unaffected. Like you can whisper a secret without an ulterior motive, like you're being honest because you don't know any other way.
Let's Whisper is a fantastic name for a band attempting all of the above (and Boy Genius, if you're wondering why you only got a short write-up and Let's Whisper get all this, just imagine having to wade through two paragraphs of parental ramblings before you cop a mention, and feel thankful!). They consist of Dana and Colin from The Smittens, an indiepop group from Burlington, Vermont, who I'm looking forward to seeing at Indietracks. I get the impression that The Smittens are more of an upbeat, regular deal, whereas Let's Whisper is "Juno" soundtrack all over. The band apparently arose from low key afternoon get-togethers, and you can hear it. You almost want to walk in halfway through carrying a tray of tea and biscuits.
There's four songs on their My Space, two with percussion, two without, and the ones without work the best (a drum machine or a bongo just seems contrary to the concept in my opinion - how can you sigh out intimacies with all that clatter in the background?) It helps that Dana, who sings on the two percussion-free songs, has a voice you can melt into. "Snowy Sunday Afternoon", apart from handing the world a perfect self-review as a song title, makes drifting apart sound like bliss, while "It's Time" is kind-hearted and full of love. (Talking of which, my eldest ran up to a girl he didn't know at the swings yesterday and gave a her big hug - just for no reason. He's two years old next week. Two years old). They're playing at The Miller, near London Bridge, tonight. Hopefully, I'll be there.
July 16th: Band 22 - Boy Genius
Another email lands in my inbox. Would I like a copy of the debut album by a two boy two girl band from Brooklyn called Boy Genius? Of course. If you think your band deserves a mention here, just drop me a line - email@example.com - and I'll see what I can do. I'm always up for hearing new music. Especially when it's of the calibre of Boy Genius, who turn out to be a pleasantly loose-limbed mixture of Felt and the Go-Betweens, with some horns thrown in for good measure. Singer Jason K has the same kind of deadpan delivery that Lawrence (and Lloyd Cole, of course) perfected twenty plus years ago, while musically Boy Genius jangle and harmonise like they're auditioning to replace Sleater-Kinney as the backing band for The Go-Betweens on "The Friends Of Rachel Worth".
If I have a criticism of Boy Genius, it's that there's no fresh ground being trodden here - from The Young Republic right back to mid Eighties, there's never really been a shortage of bands doing precisely what Boy Genius are up to. But given the right environment - let's say one of those cool down at heel bars that always seems to serve as the best live music venues in the US - I can imagine they'd be a glorious, slightly ramshackle yet utterly life-affirming experience. "Failing Gravity", in particular, is wonderful: "Karen" throwing its arms around "Every Conversation", horns parping like it's five minutes to last call and there's work to be done.
July 15th: Band 21 - Sexy Kids
Sexy Kids are one of those bands that you stumble upon by accident on the net and you're left wondering "What the hell's going on here?" Judging by the photos on their My Space, there's either five or four or three people in the band. They don't appear to be signed, they haven't got any shows coming up, they don't even have a proper website (or at least I don't think they have - doing a google search for sexy kids isn't particularly helpful, as you can imagine). Oh yes, they're from Glasgow, that much we do know. And there's a black and white video on their My Space of a female member of the band picking out a hypnotic sign-song organ line while a male member croons something indistinct, possibly made up on the spot. Well, I say it's black and white, and it mostly is, but there's this weird yellow starburst that pulsates across the screen. I've just watched "The Science Of Sleep" for the first time, and it's feels like it's escaped from that, leapt from one TV screen to another.
All of which would be yet more unfinished business were it not for "Sisters Are Forever And I Am". It's not vague or unfocussed at all - the opposite in fact. It feels like a band that knows exactly what its doing. And what it's doing is answering the question: "What if the Young Marble Giants had written upbeat pop songs?" There's that same post punk sense of space, of the band working with texture and momentum and atmosphere, but it's driven along by a pop heart that's beating with the excitement of actually getting out there and doing something for the very first time.
And it's not a one-off. "In A Box In A
Bag" pulls off a similar trick, all pop urgency and post-punk
intricacy, like The Delgados bouncing around the rehearsal studio
preparing for their debut gig. "You Don't Know Me Yet" is
a waltz and a promise: "You don't know me yet/But you soon will".
And, ah, a sudden moment of inspiration leads to a discovery - some
information! There's a single coming out on Slumberland, they used
to be in The Royal We. Ah, it's all starting to make sense now. So
does that mean that the guy who looks a bit like Patrick is actually
Patrick? Hello, if it is. I like your new band.
July 7th: Band
20 - Vanilla Swingers
For Vanilla Swingers, a duo from London, melodramatic popular song isn't so much a label as a way of life. Their debut, self-titled album, is theatre shot in widescreen, a polished, tortured slab of 21st century melodrama that switches between fist-clenching angst and airbrushed ennui, not so much gritty kitchen sink drama as upscale loft apartment drama. It's also a concept album about love, heartbreak and time-travel, with Miles Jackson and Anne Gilpin playing the part of two lovers circling around the black hole that exists when you fill your life with everything you thought you wanted only to discover it's not enough.
Musically, the pair owe a huge debt to Luke Haines, with echoes of both The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder, although there are flashes of the Pet Shop Boys and Band Of Holy Joy here as well (in fact, BOHJ's Johny Brown supplies vocals, words and melody for one song, "The Way She Walked Out The Door"). This isn't immediate music particularly - you'll have to live with this album, do your best to try and exist inside it, before it really captures you - but that's only a problem if you're strapped for time. Which given the album's overall theme is an irony that Jackson and Gilpin will probably enjoy.
July 1st: Band 19 - The Second Hand Marching Band
Let's get the obvious comparison out of the way at the start. It's fair to say that Glasgow's eighteen strong - according to their MySpace anyway - Second Hand Marching Band have probably heard a Beirut record or two in their time. They have that same sprawling, unsteady charm, that sense that this is music that falls apart and then falls together again, the horns wailing with a drunken abandon, and the accordians and mandolins and clarinets and xylophones filling in the spaces whenever they get a chance. At the end of the list of the band's instruments on their MySpace, they add "Clicky things. Jingly things", and the message is clear - this is a band unafraid to be ramshackle, if ramshackle is what's needed to get where they want to go.
Where are they going? As they're only a mere four gigs old, they're probably still working that out themselves, but the songs they've made public so far shiver with possibilities. "A Dance To Half Death", their most Beirut-esque moment, enlivens the stumbling Balkan sound with a slight, tender vocal that's closer to Malcolm Middleton, while "We Walk In The Room" brings together ukulele and xylophone for a song that sounds like Antarctica Takes It!'s softer moments. "We Will Convince You", on the other hand, could be a folk pop version of The Postal Service. It's bright and insistant and strangely danceable.
And that, it seems, is the point with The Second Hand Marching Band. The band was created, they say, to "play songs with many instruments that could be danced to." I can't quite put my finger on why, but there's something I like about that phrase. Songs with many instruments. It's like a tiny flash of poetry.
June 30th: Band 18 - Wild Honey
Strange thing happened to me yesterday. I got a full night's sleep for the first time in over a month - in two halves, admittedly, but I was dead to the world for well over eight hours. But rather than recharge my batteries, all this sleep left me feeling exhausted. By mid afternoon, I was ready to drop - it was as if my body had suddenly remembered that it had been existing on a handful of snatched moments for too long now, and decided to shut down there and then.
Wild Honey, a duo from Madrid, sound like they've been living my life for a long time now. Like The Clientele before them, they're a band that skirt blissfully around the edge of wakefulness, their melodies meandering through vapour trails and open spaces and vague memories. It's lovely stuff - Guille picking out slight notes on his guitar and sighing out English language vocals, and Diego lazily keeping time on his drumkit - that makes you wonder why groups bother with anything else. They cheat, of course - listen carefully and you can pick out xylophones and harmonicas and the like double tracked in the background - but even so, the point is made. Sometimes you quieter you get, the more powerful you become.
I've no idea how I ran into Wild Honey, but somehow that feel appropriate. "The House By The Sea:", my favourite of the three songs on their MySpace, isn't a distinct, personal experience, but an echo - like finding a charcoal sketch of the house in the title, but not knowing where the house was or who'd drawn it or why. When the duo introduce handclaps halfway through the song, it isn't - as it usually the case these days - to whip up some communal fervour, but just to punctuate time passing, almost. A strange concept but you'll understand what I mean when you hear the song.
I wish I knew more about what's happening musically in Madrid. Perhaps Wild Honey can be my way in. "We can see it/If we close our eyes..."
June 25th: Band 17 - Honey Pine Dresser
New Band Of The Day, I called it! More like Two New Bands A Week at the current rate. But then I forgot what happens around week four of parenthood. The elation of the birth, and the relief that this isn't, in fact, impossible, gives way to that all-consuming fatigue that you'd heard so many worrying tales about. Right now, I feel dizzy and a little blurry around the edges, and I'm not sure if that's the delayed after affects of My Bloody Valentine on Monday finally kicking in (I wore earplugs, and I'm glad - not just because my hearing really can't take another battering, but because it turned the 25 minute assault of "You Made Me Realise" into a physical experience. I - quite literally - felt the noise), or the fact that I was up for two hours last night comforting our eldest, who'd been woken by the baby. I vaguely remember that it starts to get easier around week six. Only ten days or so to go then....
I'm going to cheat again, and write about one of the bands that are playing at tomorrow's HDIF Presents show at Jamm in Brixton. A bit of self-promotion I suppose, but then what else is HDIF Presents but this blog in physical form? I first heard Honey Pine Dresser when they were a band without a name. Their singer, Marie-Pascale Hardy, sent a friend request on My Space, and I listened to the song on her page - a slight, haunting song called "English Game" that sounded like Elliott Smith and Kristen Hersh. You don't so much listen to this song as eavesdrop on it, Marie-Pascale's echo of a voice floating through the melody like a ghost walks through a wall. "You English boys," she sighs, "are useless and time-wasting." But she stretches out the words "time-wasting" so they sound like a lament. And the following lines "You make girls feel guilty/You make girls feel lonely and clumsy" are all goosebumps and heartbreak.
A second song appeared on MySpace, called "Waltham Forest Pool And Track". Not, you'd think, the most promising of titles. But seen through Marie-Pascale's eyes, what I presume to be her local pool is, again, full of heartbreak. She begins, brilliantly, with the words "I blow my nose and it comes out black/Every time he looks at me, I have a heart attack/The swimming pool is as dirty as it could ever be", before a dreamy organ sequence transports us into Marie-Pascale's not-quite-here, not-quite-right state of mind. I'm reminded of Polly Harvey - the delivery couldn't be more different, but there's a honesty about feeling fragile here that's instantly recognisable. "Whenever the water looks clearer/It means it's cleaner/But the water's never as clean as it should be/This water's wrong/this water's grey/this water's wrong/this water's dirty."
So yes. They're on tomorrow night, at 8.30pm. Please come along.
June 18th: Band 16 - TeamAWESOME!
Kazanggg! A technicolour lightning bolt strikes and - zzzzinnngggg - the rules that you used to depend upon in the pop universe have been thrown into the air like a pack of playing cards. What once was cool is now not cool. What once was not cool is cool. Things that shouldn't go together are hand in hand. And, my oh my, it appears that everyone's ended up in the wrong band. Look, there's Morrissey fronting Metallica. There's Jay-Z singing for Oasis (much to Noel's delight, we're sure). And, hey, over there, yeah right over there, past the Godspeed! You Black Emperor iceskating spectacular and James Blunt And The Bad Seeds, isn't that Conor Oberst? In an electropop/jazz swing/cracked pop version of early Architecture In Helsinki? You know, I think it is...
Such is the wrongoverse (that's the universe turned upside down in plain English) that surrounds TeamAWESOME!, a band that have been on the go since 2005, released an album not long after (the frankly bonkers sounding "Greatest Hits! Vol. 1!"), and crashlanded into my world about 45 minutes ago. Maybe I've always been living in a TeamAWESOME! galaxy and I just didn't realise. Maybe we all have. It certainly seems like there's a small chance I might have been in the band at some point. Since their inception, the internet reckons they've had 27 people pass through their ranks. Blimey - come on, Saturdays, keep up! And, hey, right there on the list there's the simple entry, "Ian, guitar". No surname, no pack drill. Riiiight - so that's what I did in June 2007.
They are from America of course, specifically Boulder, Colorado. They are led by Chuck Potashner, who is presumably the Conor type figure spewing bruised poetry while the rest of the band hurl their instruments at each other. And they are quite quite mad, and quite quite brilliant. I'm now going to try and work out how to buy one of their records. I may be some time...
June 17th: Band 15 - Sad Day For Puppets
Sorry for the short break in transmission, but last week was a busy one. Stereolab at the Windmill on Tuesday (the venue comfortably full for this intimate festival warm up, the groop playing all the hits - hurrah!). Darren and Jack sing Hefner plus Saturday Looks Good To Me on Friday and Saturday (the first date being my favourite of the two, I was a bit wiped out for the second). And then the Edwyn Collins tribute at the Social last night, with me spinning indiepop seven inches ("How many Sarah singles have you played tonight??," I was asked at one point. I think we worked out I'd played at least eight songs that weren't on Sarah. "That should be your motto. HDIF - you'll hear at least eight songs that aren't on Sarah!"
So there's been little time for all this - but this week I'm determined to get back on track. We kick off with the curious story of Sad Day For Puppets, a four piece from Stockholm. On YouTube, there's video footage of the band playing a festival in 2006, and they sound like every other acoustic AOR outfit that's come out of Scandinavia in the last five years or so - tasteful, accomplished, a little bland. Two years later and their debut release, the "Just Like A Ghost" EP on HaHa Fonogram, is a far sparkier affair, part effervescent indie pop, part shoegazy wall of fuzz. If you wanted to be cynical, you could say that they've simply swapped one in-vogue sound for another - although if this really is their attempt to jump on The Concretes' bandwagon, maybe someone ought to take them aside and break the news as gently as they can.
Whatever the motivation, there are some lovely moments here. "Set Alight" could be Victoria Bergsman hanging out with the Drop Nineteens (or very early Teenage Fanclub perhaps). "Annie Says" replicates the supremely laid-back cool of Mazzy Star. And "Hush" sounds like it'll be sending little ripples of electricity through dancefloors before long, all infectious piano line and artfully applied fuzz guitar.
Is it an authentic sound? Does it matter? There's talk of them coming over to play with the TVPs in August, so you'll be able to judge for yourself then.
An email pinged into my inbox at the end of last week. "Can you play 'Kathy In Her Bedroom' by Bedroom Walls at HDIF on Friday?" I was immediately intrigued. I love people asking for things I've never heard of. A quick scoot over to the band's MySpace revealed a duo from Highland Park, California (north east Los Angeles, apparently), namely Adam Goldman and Melissa Thorne. They'd released two albums of what they termed "romanticore" as part of a band, before paring down to a duo. And the press was promising. "If Elliott Smith were still alive and decided to get together and jam with Neutral Milk Hotel, the results might sound a lot like this," declared AMG.
At first I wasn't grabbed by "Kathy In Her Bedroom" - it floated past in a pleasant haze that made me think of The Brunettes' recent material, or the post-shoegaze dreampop of fellow Californians Medicine. Nothing wrong with either of those comparisons, but there was something faintly unchallenging about this sound, as if it were born from contentment rather than blood and heartbreak. But a second spin found the laidback, headnodding melody worm its way into my bloodstream. The song builds slowly but knowingly, with Goldman's sighing, sweet nothings vocal giving way to Thorne's brighter, more wide-eyed response, and by the time the insistant kraut pop of the melody really hit its stride, I was along for the ride.
I played it early doors at the club on Friday and cursed myself almost straight away. What took a while to make sense on my desktop was an instant hit when played loud over a PA - only it was too early for anyone to dance to it. Playing it now, I can easily picture a dancefloor slowly clicking into its groove. Plus I've just noticed that it's labelled in my itunes as "Children's music". And what's not to adore about that?
A strange postcript to this entry. Mulling over the kraut pop of this song got me thinking about another instance of the genre: "Drink The Elixir" by Salad. If Salad are remembered at all these days, it's for being Britpop also-rans fronted by a former MTV presenter - hardly the coolest of pedigrees - but this song is far better than all that suggests. Built on a nagging k-p riff, it cranks out the noise for the simple, title-as-chorus chorus, before returning to that relentless, almost mechanical riff. I'm sure I'm on a hiding to nothing with this one, but here's a link to the song if you're interested.
June 4th: Band 13 - Port O'Brien
I seem to have a talent for this. Picking up on an amazing band just as they're about to leave the country. Port O'Brien played at a church in London tonight, as support to Bon Iver. There's a show I'll be kicking myself about missing in years to come. I've only heard the songs on the band's My Space, but my. They're spectacular. I've got all sorts of references points running though my mind at the moment and I'm feeling a little dazzled by it all. There's the gospel fervour of the Polyphonic Spree; the lighter, poppier side of Elliott Smith; the simple, soulful power of early My Morning Jacket; and you're just going to have to bear with me on this one, but I keep hearing Buffalo Tom. There's something strung-out but homespun about what's going on here. They're handclapping and group harmonising and crying stir-crazy hosannahs, but they're also sticking to some straightforward country rock guidelines, doling out emotions like it's the simpliest thing in the world.
The backstory is just perfect. Van (male) works on his father's salmon fishing boat on Kodiak Island in Alaska. No really, I'm not making this up. Cambria (female) is head baker at a cannery in Larsen Bay, a "city" on the island. Population 115. They write songs. And, of course, given the backdrop, they're astonishing. "Stuck On A Boat" is exactly what you'd expect from the title, Van sighing "I'm sick of the weather up here", the music deadbeat, sodden. Except then Van sings "My feet weren't made for the sea/They were made for running free" and the strings swell suddenly and it's like sunlight breaking through the clouds. And then I'm hearing another reference point. Nirvana Unplugged. No really number two. And in a good way, in a really exciting, inspiring way.
"I Woke Up Today" is like a worker's revolt at the cannery, lots of clattering pots and pans, and a warehouse of voices crying "I woke up today/In a very simple way", like they've just been handed eternal life on a silver plate. It's rousing and ecstatic and unhinged and breathtaking, like a starburst of pure joy hitting you square between the eyes. You went to sleep an unbeliever, you woke up in the light. And if you're that way inclined you may find yourself reaching for a ladle and saucepan to play along. I would, but you know. It's late. I'd wake up the neighbourhood.
So bloody hell. I'll be ordering the album first thing tomorrow. I hope against hope that it's as good as the two songs mentioned above. If it is, we may have to stop the clock. There's only a Sigur Ros album standing in its way.
June 3rd: Band 12 - Bonne Idée
Another week, another great band from Gothenburg, this time a nearly all female five piece (four women, one man). I played their song, "It Will Be Back", at the club last month and it felt like an old friend, one of those songs that soars then glides then soars again. It starts brilliantly: a guitar strummed with a confidence that makes you feel like you're in the presence of a pop classic, and an accordian line - yes, an accordian! - that lodges itself in your brain in milliseconds. Trust me, you'll be singing the hook to this for days after you've heard it. It's one of those simple, joyous melodies that seems to dive and pirouette on air currents.
But then just as you expect it all to burst into action, the song steps down a gear for the verse, the light off-kilter Dolly Mixture-esque guitar dancing gorgeously under the melt-in-your-mouth lead vocal (provided by either Agnes or Kajsa, not sure which!). It's a voice you fall for straight away - kind of offhand but luxurious, slightly out of focus in a way that Swedish voices singing in English often are. There's this bit just after the chorus (sung in French, naturually!), where the tiniest guitar line just sparkles, the music nothing more complex than bass, drums and guitars, and it makes my heart melt.
At the time, there were just two songs on the band's MySpace. "It Will Be Back", sung in English, and "Dar Masar Aldrig Stor" (translation anyone?), sung in Swedish. And, confusingly for a listener who's used to everything being served to me in my own language, the Swedish song is even better. The accordian and guitar lines may be a touch more low key, more atmospheric than anthemic, but it's a dreamlike sound that draws you in and in, and by the time it all soars for the chorus (this one's glide, soar, glide - it's a good trick to have up your sleeve), you're right there with them.
If you want an easy reference point, imagine the pre-C86 perfect pop of Those Dancing Days. But imagine it five years down the line. I've no idea of the ages of Bonne Idée, but this feels like a twentysomething band rather than a teenage one. The songs are subtle and emotional rather than giddy and sparky, seemingly set in art house cafes and deserted galleries. They're full of poignant spaces and unvoiced upsets. In "New Song", a song about a new song rather than a working title (I think), the chorus runs" Some day you will analyse everything til it's broken/So stay happy while you still don't know what you're doing." And it sounds like the saddest and most uplifting thing I've heard for ages.
I know that the curse of this blog is that I work myself up into a state over a different band every day. And I'm sure you're already taking what I write with a lorryload of sea salt. But this feels like something very special indeed - unpolished, for sure (not all of the songs on their My Space are the finished article), but wonderful nonetheless. I'm head over heels.
May 30th: Band 11 - Headlights
Today's entry starts off as a tale of two bands rather than one. The first, Saturday Looks Good To Me, started as a classic indie Motown outfit signed to Polyvinyl, before moving onto a more experimental indie rock sound on K records. The second, a trio from Illinois called Headlights, appear to have travelled the same journey, but in the opposite direction. They started off as an indie art rock outfit, before discovering a love for indie pop and sixties cool and signing to...yup, Polyvinyl.
To confuse matters further, their line up consists of an elfin brunette singer called Betty (sorry, make that Erin), and four besuited blokes, one of whom could well be called Fred. And to begin with, "Cherry Tulips" sounds very familiar - there's a lush wash of organ and a shuffle snare beat that could have come straight from "Every Night". But as the song progresses, the band start to find something approaching their own style, inching towards the country rock of Rilo Kiley and the Adult Oriented Indie of Feist.
All of which would be just another dollop of faint praise were it not for Headlights' way with a beatific chorus, all calmly joyous harmonies and quietly bizarre lyrics ("I want the sea/I want the horses..."). It's one of those songs you can hear soundtracking a TV advert for a piece of tasteful technology (or a nice new sofa, perhaps). Not exactly the cutting edge of indie pop, then, but just the thing to while away a grey afternoon on the cusp of what should be summer.
May 29th: Band 10 - Help Stamp Out Loneliness
Named after a Nancy Sinatra song. Surely that's all you should need to know. Call me shallow, but they had me with the name. I've had their song, "The Lino Heart", for ages now, maybe a year. Colm, also of Language Of Flowers, sent me an mp3, with a brief note - maybe I'd like to hear his new band. The idea, apparently, was to take a break from the joyous jangle pop of LoF and have a crack at something slightly different - a bit of krautrock, some shoegazing, some lounge perhaps. But "The Lino Heart" is way way better than that vague list of influences. Sounding like a haunted St Etienne (but I dunno, about fifty times better than that sounds too), "The Lino Heart" is a hymn to going out dancing that feels like it's set in a deserted ballroom, maybe an hour of so after the night's over and everyone's gone home, leaving the detritus of a life-changing night scattered across the dancefloor - phone numbers, heels, cocktail glasses - and a pair of lovers locked in for the evening. It's a long song - 5:23 - and it's a steady song, just a drum machine beat, vague atmospherics in the background, and a dreamy female vocal - but like the best kraut rock, it needs to be that length to really capture a mood, to conjure a feeling and then run and run and run with it.
The second song Colm sent me recently, "We're Split Infinitives", proves that "The Lino Heart" is no fluke. Reminiscent of Yo La Tengo swooning over The Field Mice (a hint of the magnificent "I Heard You Looking" in there, definitely no bad thing), it's a driving, dreamy, love affair of a song, one that has me locked into that head-nodding groove with an instrumental outro that's just perfection. I asked them to play a HDIF Presents show as soon as I heard them, but they turned me down - saying they'd be in touch when they were ready. Over a year later, we have a date: Thursday September 25th. I know! September! I can hardly wait, but as someone once said, it's not so far away.
May 28th: Band
9 - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
So, yes, the wonderous Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. I'll admit, when I first heard them, I was wary. What makes "This Love Is Fucking Right" so startling is that it's a perfect indie pop song. The perfect indie pop song, almost. And when I first heard it, it felt too perfect, suspiciously so. Like this wasn't music with its eyes fixed on the horizon, but a throwback, a pastiche even. Just listen to it - the processed thud of the drum machine, the wavering bassline, that precise guitar sound, the vaguely fey feel to Kip Bermnan's vocal. I recognised the reference points straight away - The Field Mice, The Shop Assistants. I lived those reference points, after all. And to begin with, suddenly hurtling back in time by almost two decades felt wrong. We should be looking forward, building on the past, not replecating it. What's done is done.
But then I heard their signature song, the self-titled "The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart". And this was something else entirely. Once again, I recognised the influences straight away - The House Of Love, The Primitives. It is essentially "Destroy The Heart" melting into "We've Found A Way To The Sun". But there was a confidence to it, a kind of shining self-belief, I guess a sense of ego, determination, conviction, whatever you want to call it, that made it rise above its influences, to transcend them. I don't like it because it reminds me of bands I loved when I was a teenager. I like it because it sounds triumphant, like there's something truly important being born here. And don't the lyrics just know it: "We are so sure/We will never die, no no, we will never die." It may be a shoegazing song in essence, but this isn't a song that inpsires the listener to consider their footwear. It makes you feel like you can defy the world.
So I went back and listened again, because the one thing I love most about music is having my mind changed for me. Being jolted out of my preconceptions. And I was right - "This Love Is Fucking Right" is the perfect indie pop song. But listening to it again with the knowledge that this isn't a third division tribute band, that they have it in them to better their influences, it sounded glorious. Again, there was that confidence - "In a dark room, I can see you shining bright" - but there was also a vulnerability, a sense of imperfection that made it feel like its own song rather than a meticulously constructed echo.
Consider me hooked, then. I was on holiday when they played London, but hopefully they'll be back soon. And just know I was suspicious because I didn't think this could really happen again. But it can. It can.
Having most of a football team onstage doesn't always work out for the best, of course. You only have to look at someone like The Young Republic (lovely band, but too much classical training and not enough instinctive brilliance), to realise that you can be too damn accomplished for your own good. And sometimes it feels as if Seabear, a seven piece from Reykjavik, aren't pushing it as far as they could. Pianos tinkle, xylophones sparkle, violins trace graceful arcs, and you're never more than a few seconds away from another tasteful moment.
Thankfully, there's a simplicity and purity of spirit to singer Sindri's vocal that sends sparks through the trad arrangements. At times, they recall Iron And Wine, that sense that you're eavesdropping on music that wasn't really meant for the outside world. At others, Sindri echoes Bobby Wratten's stark, understated approach to bearing the soul. And the longer you spend with these songs, the more hypnotic they become - the music weaving a cocoon around you, as all the best music does. "Human skin can be hard to live in," sighs Sindri. "You'll feel better in the morning". Amen to that.
PS - For any overseas readers wondering what happened to Monday's entry, it was a bank holiday here in the UK. So being a generous boss, I gave myself the day off. Inevitably, it rained.
May 23rd: Band 7 - Bonnie and Clyde
There's something reassuringly unhinged about Bonnie and Clyde. Two bands within a band, they're a duo (Fanny Wijk and Rickard Hallin) backed by The Up To No Good's (Karin Londré, Erik Londré, Anton Wreger, Bo Jansson, Jon Sunnerfjell), all from Gothenburg. On paper, they make perfect sense - a teenage/early twenty something indie pop seven piece, who play songs like they're throwing a party, all grand gestures and group euphoria. But somewhere in the translation, some of the contents have shifted a little. So rather than being a cheery celebration in the vein of, say, I'm From Barcelona, this party's going ever so slightly wrong. Like one of those teenage bashes that get advertised on MySpace and end up on the national news.
Take "Snowstorm". Somewhere between a sea shanty and the drunken lament of a teenager that's just consumed their body weight in vodka for the first time, it sways and totters unsteadily on its feet, occassionally making contact with a world that's in focus. In the song, Fanny has climbed onto the roof during a snowstorm, convinced that "they" are talking about her behind her back, and the band match her neurosis with a brass part that veers brilliantly on the edge of being in tune, and a la-la-la-la-la backing that sounds like a baying mob willing her to jump. And the moral at the centre of the song? "It's like the saying. 'We all know the monkey. But the monkey knows no-one at all'." Um...right!
I saw the band when I was over in Sweden, and even though they played to a small and frankly rather baffled crowd (most of the people had turned up for the excellent garage rock of The Greencoats, and didn't know quite what to do with what looked like a graduation party that had spilled onto the stage), they were exactly how I'd hoped they be - chaotic, endearing, gobby, unstoppable, slightly out of tune. They thrust a CD into my hands afterwards and only when I got home to London did I notice it was called "The Great Tram Robbery". Hopefully they'll come over to play the UK soon, but in the meantime there's a single on Cloudberry and they're signed to Bonjour recordings. Expect...well just drink yourself blind and let your expectations look after themselves.
May 22nd: Band 6 - Mexican Kids At Home
Ah, the melodica. If you had to nominate the ultimate indie pop instrument, then this would have been your choice a few years ago. It's an instrument that draws a line in the sand I've always thought, seperates the interesting musicians from the rock'n'roll posers. Can you imagine the guys from Kasabian puffing into melodicas, as they self-consciously crank up their record collection rock? It's not a look you'd dare attempt if you still believe in the tattered cliches of rock'n'roll. These days, the ukulele serves pretty much the same function. You're not going to fool anyone into thinking you're, ahem, dangerous (yeah, he's a mean-hearted rebel in his leather trousers and shades after dark), if you launch into a ukulele solo at a crucial moment.
Mexican Kids At Home, a five piece from Derby who describe themselves as "four skateboarders and a girl singer", clearly don't care about the petty rules of rock'n'roll credibility. Apart from employing both melodica and ukulele in their anti-folk meet indie pop songs, they sport a myspace page with a knitted woollen quilt as a background image and have a song about starting a one man band - another rock'n'roll no no. As the great Rich Hall once said, give a man a guitar and a harmonica and you can proclaim him a genius. But strap a drum on his back and put cymbals between his knees...
So, yes, we're in a relaxed, unaffected realm here, far from the madding crowd. These are simple songs but instantly loveable, with some curious surprises hidden in the lyrics. "Promazine" sounds like sweet-hearted indie folk but listen closely and you'll find they're "learning how to steal and how to fight", while "Female Thief" revolves around the phrase "She took my dog away so I punched her in the face". Quite how it all works live is anyone's guess, but I can imagine that, like fellow Derby-ites The Deirdres, they're lots of fun and utterly charming.
May 21st: Band 5 - The Voluntary Butler Scheme
you're thinking you kind of recognise the chap in the photo on the
right, it's because Rob Jones has spent the last few years lurking
in the background of a couple of celebrated indie pop bands. He played
in the touring band for the Boy Least Likely To, and was the original
drummer for The School. Throughout that time, he was also tinkering
away in secret on his own one-man endeavour, the Badly Drawn Boy via
Owen Pallett lo-fi pop of The Voluntary Butler Scheme. Athough according
to his myspace page, he's had a little help from some famous friends.
Check this out for a band line-up: Marc Bolan - bass, Johnny Cash
- shakers & backing vocals, Elvis Presley - acoustic & electric
guitars, James Brown - drummer, Roy Orbison - glockenspiel.
Intrigued by what I'd heard, I went to see Rob play at the Slaughtered Lamb, back in February. And even though I expected great things, he was quietly and hilariously spectacular. For reasons that remained unclear, his backing band of Bolan, Cash and company had stood him up, so he tackled the show on this own, calmly piecing together each song, Final Fantasy-style, recording a guitar or a keyboard part and looping it, then recording the next bit and looping it, and so on, until a song had suddenly sprung up around him. We're pretty familiar with this technique thanks to Pallett and others like him, but while Final Fantasy's songs work more as spectacle rather than something you'd want to hum to yourself in the shower, Rob's songs are good-hearted pop gems. And he was funny too, telling little stories and making people laugh while doing his best to hide behind his fringe.
Since then he's been a guest on Marc Riley's 6 Music show, and he's currrently on tour with Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong. He's first on out of three at the Scala tomorrow night, so go and along and see him. And tell him to check his email, will you. I need to speak to him.
May 20th: Band
4 - The Very Most
It's all the fault of a band, of course. And it seems when you're talking about Boise, there is only one band it could conceivably be the fault of - Built To Spill. The band found fame when they signed to a major, but in true indie fashion, I only really paid attention when they were on a label called Up. I own one of their albums, called "There's Nothing Wrong With Love", and it's one of the cherished gems in my collection - a record that's almost like a litmus test. If someone knows it and loves it, then I know we'll get on.
On paper, it sounds clumsy. It's part grunge, part orchestral pop, as if Dinosaur Jr had roped in a string section to record their teenage symphonies. But in your headphones, it's a magical record. The start of "Car", where Doug Martsch sighs "You get the car/I'll get the night off..." is just heartstopping, while my favourite song on the album, "Twin Falls" is perfection, tender indie pop with the most romantic lyrics about growing up in a small town. Look:
Twin Falls, Idaho is her oldest memory
And really my romantic attatchment to the phrase "Boise, Idaho"
comes from this song, where it's "Twin Falls, Idaho". But
somewhere in my mind, because I know the band's from Boise, the two
have become blurred.
What's that, Jonathan? What do The Very Most sound like? Well, the band they remind me of is Peter Bjorn and John. Not because of what they sound like, but because, like PB&J, they have one stand out song that doesn't sound much like their other stuff. That song is called "Sod Off" and as you might guess from the Anglophile title, it's as British as can be - in fact, if it had popped up as a single on Factory in the mid Eighties, it wouldn't have sounded wildly out of place. It would have been a smash too - all perfect synth lines, New Order-esque guitar and glacial female vocals from Aly McCrink (who, if you're looking for a contemporary reference point, sounds a little like Amy Millan, when she's singing with Stars). I played it at the club on Saturday and it went down a storm.
Most of their other material features a male vocal from songwriter
Jeremy Jensen, and recalls the perfect chiming pop of Teenage Fanclub
(specifically, the songs written by Gerry Love - ie the pop songs),
and the lo-fi symphonic pop of Papas Fritas. It's lovely stuff, but
it's a leap sideways from the dancefloor shimmy of "Sod Off".
I've only had the album for a few days, though, so it could all make
perfect sense by this time next week. It's certainly growing on me
at a dizzying rate.
May 19th: Band 3 - Detektivbyrån
I've been listening to Detektivbyrån for months now, so calling them a new band feels a little strange. Their Hemvägen EP is a favourite on my ipod, and I play it whenever I have to go out late at night to the local supermarket on Brixton Hill. It turns what could be a dull trudge to the shops in the dark into something a little more magical. The blur of the car headlights, the squelch of the mud underfoot as I take a short cut through the little park, the shadows of the housing estates, even the bright lights of the supermarket, as I glide around the aisles picking up milk and bread and whatever else our family needs. I guess I should be playing Burial - their haunted dubstep is made for the inner city after all - but I prefer being magicked away by these songs.
Musically, the three piece - from Gothenburg,
yes, more Swedes - are probably closest to Yann Tiersen. They layer
accordion, glockenspiel and all manner of tiny chimes and squiggles
over the lightest of glitched beats, conjuring up instumental music
that makes you feel like a ghost in a slightly more cinematic world.
From what I saw of Gothenburg a few weeks back, it's a typically tasteful
Swedish port town, cobbled streets and wooden houses co-existing with
the functional concrete and glass of the modern age, but whenever
I listen to Detektivbyrån I'm transported to a fairy
tale land of snow and twinkling lights.
Day two and it's another new band I have mixed feelings about. I'll love someone unreservedly on Monday, honest. But once again, I'm too intrigued by the possibilities suggested by Wildbirds & Peacedrums to pass them by. Here's the story: They're a husband and wife duo, Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin, who met at Gothenburg's Academy Of Music, and have recorded two albums for Caprice Records, a Swedish jazz label. And what I liked about the songs I initially heard on their myspace was a jazz thing - they were feral, untethered, just a voice and drums colluding in what sounded like a spiritual chant. I was reminded of Nina Simone on "Sinnerman", that moment where she starts humming and clapping, language no longer necessary, the momentum of the song being enough to carry her forward.
But, alas, when I got the band's debut album, "Heartcore", what I loved about W&P - the mad percussive clatter tied to a voice that only nudged against recognisable language - was barely present. A few songs - "Doubt/Hope", the brilliant "The Window" - were exactly what I'd hoped for, and a few others - the slow, dreamlike, almost percussion free "I Can't Tell In His Eyes" - conjured up something else equally as enthralling. But too much of the album felt aimless and affected. In fact, take away the instinctive rush that drives the percussive songs, the voice babbling onwards, no time to connect with the world of making sense, and it all felt slightly pretentious. And not in a good way.
But I was told that the band come into their element live, so I went
to see them last night, opening for Caribou at the Scala. And, thankfully,
they were wonderful. There was only 40 or so people in the Scala when
they started their set, but that actually suited W&P I thought
- they could start slowly, tentatively, let the tiny details ebb out
into the looming space before them, rely on that hunched, rattling
feeling to power them through. And it worked - just Andreas thundering
around his kit, and Mariam's vocal spluttering, soaring, the two elements
coming at each other from right angles, not so much drum'n'bass as
May 15th: Band
1 - Get Well Soon
In fact, my real gripe with Get Well Soon isn't that he's a shameless magpie - I'm a Jens Lekman fan, after all - but that after five or so songs, he stops the cultural kleptomania and settles into aping those Radiohead ballads. Which is fine for a song and a half perhaps but by the time we get to the third song of that ilk, you're thinking "Oh well, he was showing promise, but now he's slipped into a coma." Which would be a mistake. As the next song is a reinvention of "Born Slippy" by Underworld, that reimagines the pavement-pounding lager-lager-lager rush of the mid Nineties anthem as, well, something Zach Condon and Sufjan Stevens might come up with. So a borrowed song and a borrowed style, and yet it's all still faintly compelling. You are - or at least I am - intrigued, despite everything.
Of course, Gropper needs to find his own voice if he wants to be
more than a fleeting novelty. But better to suffer from a surfeit
of voices, than none at all. Get well soon, Konstantin.
For the old HDIF New Bands page, go here