Thursday, January 31, 2008

Phil Ochs: yes; Vampire Weekend: no.

There has been too much talk lately about Vampire Weekend and their soi-disant “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Upper West Side Soweto”; there has been too little talk involving the phrases “piss off back to your Peter Gabriel albums, tossers” and “shut the fuck up, you pretentious cockfarmers”.

For African pop, we should turn our attentions to the mighty Phil Ochs, who in 1973 recorded two songs with The Pan-African Ngembo Rumba Band in Kenya. Released only in Africa by A&M, the Bwatue/Niko Mchumba Ngombe single was Ochs’s sole venture in this style.

After this recording, Ochs went to Tanzania where he was beaten and strangled so badly by three men that he lost his top register. For a singer who relied on his high notes, this was a disaster for Ochs.

Returning to the USA, he saw Frank Sinatra’s throat doctor who advised him to stop drinking and perform vocal exercises for three hours a day to give him a chance to recover his register. Ochs chose to carry on drinking.

My favourite chapter in Ochs’s rich and varied life involved him trying to sign with Elvis's manager Colonel Tom Parker in the mid-70s; when Parker ignored him, Ochs went instead to Colonel Tom Sanders. KFC representatives met Ochs but quickly left the meeting as Ochs was very drunk and incoherent.

Phil Ochs hung himself from his sister’s bathroom door on April 9, 1976. A toast to those who are gone.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

American Hardcore: Culturecide

If the documentary American Hardcore, about punk’s mutation into a harder, faster, more HM-minded genre in the US from 1979-86, had been cut by forty minutes to an hour and covered some of the bigger names (Husker Du, for example) and considered more closely its inspiration and subsequent influence, it would’ve been a much stronger film.

Seeing American Hardcore a couple of weeks ago in a London cinema was to see a worthy contribution to the study of the punk subculture, but by no means anything close to a definitive analysis of that scene. Had this film been made with – to quote Lenny Kaye’s opinion of Clinton Heylin’s From The Velvets To The Voidoids book – “a critic’s eye and a fan’s heart” then a tighter, more rigorous insight into hardcore’s genesis and legacy might have been offered.

While respect is due to the exhaustive research that unearthed around 60 interviewees, my feeling is that a better interviewer would’ve asked Mark Arm about hardcore’s massive influence on grunge; death metal’s immense debt to hardcore would’ve been explored; and the slating of The Ramones, without whom hardcore might not have existed, wouldn’t have gone unchallenged.

Of those interviewees, I was thrilled to see that one was a member of Culturecide. Their 1987 album, Tacky Souvenirs Of Pre-Revolutionary America, sounds like The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu playing with Ciccone Youth and remains a repository of gifted, witty re-interpretations of pop songs.

Taking contemporary hits and playing white-noise guitar over the top with new lyrics lampooning the artist being covered, Reagan’s America and the music industry all at once, Culturecide are a band you’ll love. Or hate. They really do split opinion down the middle.

Listen to their inspired version of Dancing In The Dark,Bruce, to make up your own mind. I’m quite certain the band won’t mind, seeing as the album’s inner states:
Home-taping is killing the record industry…so keep doing it. Let this record be the master for your cassette edition.

Whoever the band is, I mean. These Texans kept a low-profile, probably because of worries over copyright violation. However, contemporary reports offer us one side of the story:
It doesn’t take any talent to do that!
Fan at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, 15/3/86

They completely ruined that song!
Fan at New Music America, 13/4/86

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Devil Has All The Best Tunes

With his new side-project, The Mountain Movers, Dan Greene from the Butterflies of Love has drawn deeply from Muscle Shoals's horn-driven soul, the darkly theatrical flourishes of Love’s Forever Changes, the orchestral pop of Beulah’s When Your Heartstrings Break and The Zombies’ psychedelic masterpiece Odessey & Oracle to create a visionary album about the afterlife, We’ve Walked In Hell And There Is Life After Death, that in terms of quality stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its classic inspirations.

Obviously, this is the best album of 2008 (if a greater one comes along, then the world’s a better place than we thought; that, or another Mountain Movers album gets released).

Dan very kindly answered some questions:

This album is about the afterlife and hell. Dan, have you turned into a goth?
Edgar Allen Poe was always easy to identify with...Heavy metal too-- at least lyrically. Always was a bit Goth in storytelling and drawing. I like paintings with a medieval feel. Mostly though I write love songs around Catholic themes. That's what Irish-Americans from Massachusetts do.

There's also an album about the afterlife and heaven. Is there a great musical difference between the two albums?
Well originally there were 12 hell songs and 12 heaven songs. Just seemed too much for a debut album. Slapped 12 together from each aisle. The title made more sense though when it was 24 songs. 12 hit the editing room floor.

Any more MM projects after these afterlife albums?
Yes, plenty more. We are recording a ten-song, 35-minute record right now in Brooklyn. Did 4 days of playing and now we have to mix. These are most of the songs we have been playing live, and none are the ones from the editing room floor.

Jeff (Greene, BoL other singer-songwriter) mentioned to me once that you write songs virtually every day and have written hundreds of unreleased albums. Is this true?
I am always in the middle of working on some collection of 10-14 songs that I demo on the 4track. Got about 35 "records". I suppose that is a lot of songs considering I didn't start writing songs until I was 24. The jury is still out on what percentage of that stack of songs are redeemable.

Do you rely on friends telling you which are the best songs to release?
Machine gunning songs, drawings, and poems comes natural. Sitting back, editing, selecting, sequencing, the basics of decision making, and especially promotion and management are elusive.

That is where Jeffrey shined. He is also helpful in being a threshing floor when selecting songs.

The brass instrumentation is very different to BoL. Do the Mountain Movers represent something you felt you weren't able to do with BoL?
I never thought, "Man the Butterflies are amazing, but if they had a horn section it would put it over the top." I just ran into the horn section when they were recording at Scotty's (organ for BoL) studio. I decided to record there too. They listened to the songs and pressed the red "record" button.

I thought Famous Problems was the best album of 2007. Can we expect some new BoL material after the MM album?
I thought it was the best record of 2007 too. Many will in the future. As for our future, we usually let time lapse and then get together to start working on a new project.

There was a time (1999/2000) when BoL were a name on the lips of many critics and pop fans. Why do you think the BoL haven't crossed from the promise of the 'next big thing' to the actuality of the current big thing?
Hey man, The Butterflies will always be the "next big thing" cause we write nothing but hits, but they only seem to hit certain people at certain times.

Do you think the MM are a more commercial proposition than the BoL?
No. The underground is just fine.

Anything else you'd like to add, please do.
Can't wait to come to London.

There’s a demo of This Last Hope you can listen to. Pretty good, no? The final version is even better. Buy We’ve Walked In Hell And There Is Life After Death in February from Fortuna Pop!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

It's Too Late To Stop Now

It was during the boiling hot summer of 1976 that I first heard it. Punk was about to happen, but this album, showed me something really different. Before that, Van Morrison had been, in my perception, some American type singer..songwriter; long hair, jeans, country rock kinda thing. No thank you very much sir, not my cup of tea. Then I heard Astral Weeks. What was it? I couldn't understand it, it sounded bizarre and tuneless at first, as if he was making it up as he was going along...

The long term effect it had on me, is something else entirely. That, and one of his other great works of genius; Its Too Late To Stop Now, brought my understanding of what music could be and mean, to another level. They showed me some of what was possible with music. Those records expanded the boundaries. I related to the pain and I'd never heard music that touched me so deeply. I hadn't known that music could express and mean so much, and be so serious. The seriousness suited me, that's how I felt. People were always telling me to cheer up.

I hadn't known that music could take me beyond where Rock N Roll, straight Soul, Bob Dylan and even the great Roxy Music had {which was a pretty good place anyway} took me. This was more than Rock N Roll, this was something else. It was genius. That word is used a lot, im not talking about the kind of genius that writes loads of songs or plays loads of instruments, though Van does do those things, im talking about the kind of genius that goes to musical places where others don't and where it must be said, quite a few people maybe don't even know exists! Some people listen to Its Too Late To Stop Now and say "yeah, its nice". Nice isnt a word that describes it for me. Its a mystery to me that others dont hear what i hear in it, but then maybe they get from some other record, what i get from Astral Weeks and Its Too Late To Stop Now.

Kevin Rowland

Rowland gave former Dexys bandmate Al Archer royalties for coming up with the raggle-taggle Celtic soul-folk idea which he appropriated for Dexys' second incarnation on the Too-Rye-Ay album (Archer developed the idea quite brilliantly, although less commercially successfully, with The Blue Ox Babes), but the real debt is to Van Morrison.

There's a few lines from a song
Sounded sad upon the radio, broke a million hearts in mono
Made our mothers cry
Sang along, who’ll blame them

that sum up the feeling of shared emotions and intense passions generated by Van in 1974.

It's Too Late To Stop Now is one of 29 Van Morrison albums to be remastered and reissued (with - of course - bonus material) on CD over the next two years.

To start the reissue programme, seven albums will be released on 28 January:
Tupelo Honey
It’s Too Late To Stop Now
Into The Music
A Sense Of Wonder
Avalon Sunset
Back On Top

Friday, January 18, 2008

Indiepop Lovin'

Wednesday’s edition of The London Paper carried this classified:
To Justine, the dark haired, pretty Irish girl I met at the Luminaire in Kilburn on 8 Jan. I lost your number. Please get in touch. CRYSTAL PALACE ANDY

January 8 at the Luminaire was, many of you will know, a Clientele gig. I’ve been to many Clientele gigs in the past, but have recently denied myself their aural pleasure due to the rampant, pernicious PERVATALISM among their followers.

I want to go to a gig, not a meat market. Oh, to be able to enjoy an indiepop gig without roaming eyes undressing me. Also – and I realise this will come as a crushing disappointment to all female readers of this blog – I’m taken.

Still, good luck, Andy. If it helps, you may be comforted to know that before my ascension to love god status, there were dark days for me in my quest to find a suitable vessel for my son and heir. Days when I doubted my ability to penetrate every woman alive. There were even moments, but only moments, when I questioned whether my haircut ‘worked’.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Puddle

The Puddle's first new release in 15 years, the album No Love No Hate, is surreal and tender, capturing the black humour of the Silver Jews, the experimental garage rock of The Clean and Pavement’s crooked post-punk in an elusive, subtly psychedelic vision.

Three albums for Flying Nun between 1986 and 1993, before they recorded their Songs For Emily Valentine album which songwriter and the only constant in the revolving Puddle line-up George D Henderson claims “wasn’t rejected. I just thought it was so good it would sell itself, so I never actually played it to anyone else.” Songs For Emily Valentine was eventually released in 2006 and can be bought, along with No Love No Hate, from Powertool Records.

No Love No Hate was played and recorded solely by Henderson in his brother’s home studio in Dunedin last year. Recordings with a full band made in 2005 are due to be released as a 12-track album, Playboys In The Bush, later this year.

But you will not see me naked often. I wear what I normally wear; no underclothes, a white button-down shirt, black corduroy-velvet, mildly flared trousers, black dress socks, and a brown corduroy single-breasted jacket. I never wear T-shirts or pyjamas. I have three pairs of shoes, Doc Martens, boat shoes and black dress shoes, and I often wear a tie. In winter I may reluctantly wear a plain sweater or a light-coloured coat.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you upload The Wee Cherubs single again?

2. Please can you upload The Wee Cherubs single again?

3. While you’re doing that, would you mind awfully uploading the b-side?

4. You’re just a sore indie loser ain’t ya?
Fuck you, asswipe.

5. Have you ever seen a grown woman naked IN REAL LIFE?
Yes, many times (or, for those hip hop fans among you, “your momma”).

6. Aw go on, upload it again. I’ll stop pestering you.
Oh, for fuck’s sake
Waiting For My Man
Yes, that is a cover of the Velvet Underground song and, yes, The Wee Cherubs did elide the “I’m” in the title.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Songs For Children

My mate Daniel was over from Sweden at christmas. While looking through my singles, his interest was exercised by The Pastels' Songs For Children debut on Whaam!

He reckoned that the b-side, Tea Time Tales, is different on the original than on re-releases. I wouldn't know about that, but he insisted I upload it. I may just as well upload the a-side, Heavens Above!, too.

There were a few singles Daniel saw that he implored me to upload, but I can only find The Pastels and Another Sunny Day singles. I strongly suspect he stole the other ones while my back was turned fetching him a beer from the fridge. No gratitude, some people.

Another Sunny Day: the Caff single

Eighteen years ago while moonlighting from Sarah Records, Harvey Williams released a single for Caff, a collectors’ label run by Bob Stanley that issued 7” singles in limited editions of 500.

The sleevenotes (or, rather, a small, loose piece of paper) written by Bob tell us this much:
Here’s another archive goodie, this time from Penzance’s titan of teen pop, Harvey ‘Festive’ Williams (as he was known in his baseball days). Both “tracks” were “cut” on a now deceased portastudio in Stamford Brook, W. London.

Genetic Engineering was a 1983 single by OMD which appeared later that year on their seminal Dazzle Ships album. Says Harvey: “That LP was a perfect combination of submarine noises, anguished vocals, thrashed guitars and Czechosolvenke radio. I accept no substitute.”

Kilburn Towers meanwhile is from a 1968 Bee Gees LP called Idea. Over to Festive: “Kilburn Towers is a typical, beautiful late sixties Bee Gees ballad. Strings and mellotron to the fore, atmos melody, Barry’s chestwig. Without The Bee Gees I could not live.

I asked Festive last week for his thoughts on the release 18 years on:
OMD and the Bee Gees are both bands who are grossly misunderstood by the general public. I guess I was trying to -ahem- redress the balance. Certainly a few people have told me that they'd investigated the Gibbs' 60s work after they'd heard the Caff version of Kilburn Towers, so it feels like there was some point to it all.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Those Dancing Days hit the ground running in 2008 with Hitten, mixing candy-floss pop with an insistent 60s soul groove. Like The Pipettes when they're good. Or Girlfrendo, who were always good.

It's far, far better than last year's eponymous single, but their other songs on myspace suggest that Hitten is something of a flash-in-the-pan. I suppose you can't really trust a band named after a Led Zeppelin song...

They'll probably never be this good again, but if they're going to be a one-hit wonder then Hitten is one hell of a way to be remembered.

For those of you who like press releases, this is the official bumf:
Those Dancing Days return with a new single, the ineradicably infectious ‘Hitten’ will be released through Wichita Recordings 28th January 2008.‘Hitten’ is the follow up to the self-titled debut single ‘Those Dancing Days’ released in October 2007.

‘Hitten’ or in its English translation ‘The Hit’, will be released on the following formats as well as a digital download.

7” WEBB161S
A. Hitten
B. Tasty Boy
Compact Disc: WEBB161SCD
01. Hitten
02. Tasty Boy
03. Dischoe

They also return to our shores at the end of the month to play the following UK shows:

Thurs 31st Jan London On the Up Islington Bar Academy free
Fri 1st Feb London The Barfly £6
Sat 2nd Feb London Bardens Boudoir £6

Formed in Nacka a suburb of Stockholm in 2005, Those Dancing Days mixture of girl group charm, Northern Soul and Hammond driven pop surfaced in the winter of 2007 and is about to lead them to be one of the most talked about new bands in eons. They have been described as, ? and The Mysterians fronted by ex- Sugarbabe Mutya Buena and not one of them over the age of 20! Those Dancing Days are currently on tour in Europe and begin recording their debut album in December due for release in 2008.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Girls In Their Summer Dresses

Pedantry is not the first thing my friends would accuse me of (it’s probably the second; judging by Christmas Eve in the pub, the first thing is being “a cunt” – thanks John, thanks Tim) but the repetition in yesterday’s Observer of the falsehood that Bruce Springsteen’s Girls In Their Summer Clothes might be a Stephin Merritt tribute needs addressing.

Firstly, Springsteen’s song from last year’s excellent Magic album found its inspiration in Irwin Shaw’s superb short story from 1942, The Girls In Their Summer Dresses.

Secondly, Merritt owes as much to Springsteen’s influence as he does to any of the more fashionable names with whom he’s usually associated. Unfairly maligned or dismissed by indiepop fans (what band got its name from the lyrics to Springsteen's Blinded By The Light: “And go-kart Mozart was checkin' out the weather chart to see if it was safe to go outside”?), Springsteen is one of rock’s greatest portraitists.

Has Merritt ever written a verse as evocative as
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane
Jungleland (1975)


I had skin like leather and the diamond-hard look of a cobra
I was born blue and weathered but I burst just like a supernova
I could walk like Brando right into the sun
Then dance just like a Casanova
It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City (1973)

I appreciate that elevating Springsteen over Merritt will be an unpopular position for many of you, but I maintain that stance with a conviction while fully acknowledging Merritt’s gifted guile.

I’ll leave off here with some more wisdom from Springsteen:

Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse
The River (1980)