Monday, March 31, 2008

Independence For Sweden

It is my onerous duty to report that Sweden is not, after all, throbbing exclusively with indiepop fans. Rather alarmingly to those of us who thought the Independence For Sweden movement was a truly homogenous national will, there are Swedes who – and it does pain me to shatter your illusions – like other types of music.

DJing at the So Tough! So Cute! club in Malmo on Saturday, fully expecting kids who wear stripy t-shirts and their haircuts backwards to request lost indiepop classics, I was – and I urge those of a sensitive nature to cover their eyes – asked to play “Oasis”. The same tone deaf youth then asked for “Blur”. In desperation at my refusal – I can’t play what I don’t have – he pleaded for “The Rolling Stones”. Again, I disappointed him.

Ten minutes later, his girlfriend approached and demanded something with “a bit more oomph”. I pointed out that the dancefloor was heaving with the pulsating gyrations of enthusiastic dancers. She looked nonplussed. “We want to hear THE FINAL COUNTDOWN.”

It was at this point that I realised she’d mistaken the DJ booth for a confession booth. “We don’t play that sort of music. Now say three hail marys, get your ears cleaned out and if that doesn’t work I really must recommend you consider electric shock therapy.”

Odder than that – and the Swedish speakers among you will have to excuse my abuse of your mother tongue – a young man accosted me with the chilling words:
God afton , min herre. Jag och min idiot vännerna skulle raring lik till gör MACARENA. JAG lita på du vill lek den för oss.

Given the state of my Swedish (like John Candy’s in Splash) I recognised only the deathly word “Macarena” and referred the gent to resident DJ, Daniel. His answer –I think the non-Swedish speakers among you will get the gist – gave a clear message to those revellers who’d wandered into the wrong club:
Fuck bort

Other than that, though, a smashing time was had by all. The drink flowed, the dancefloor heaved and the music raced for the prize and won. I will return in the summer. And, no, I will not play The Final Fuck Bort Countdown.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Calling Malmo

Are you in Malmo on Saturday night? Do the finger-clicks of girl group pop quicken your pulse? Does the driving beat of sweet soul music make your head spin? Does the spirited jangle of classic indiepop make your heart flutter?

It does? Excellent! Then come along to So Tough! So Cute! because I'll be DJing and you, well, I expect you will be turning a particularly fine shoe to some great tunes.

Restaurang Retro
Norra Skolgatan 24, Malmö
11PM - 03AM
Free admittance
Age 20 years (18years+ are most welcome but should mail ahead to be put on a guest list)


Ladybird started their North American tour last night: those of you with a chance to catch them should do so.

Everyone else can console themselves with last year’s Love Will Conquer All album, which occupies the rarefied air of Galaxie 500’s hymnal gloom, has the same outsider spirit of the Modern Lovers’ proto punk and is like Mazzy Star’s gauche, injured pop only without the production polish.

There’s much wonder to love in this ambitious debut: the emotional meltdown of TVPs’ The Painted Word looms large, as does the VU’s noir; the enterprising engagement of slide guitar, Wurlitzer, cello and melodica augments the lo-fi leanings; Kaye Woodward and Paul Kean of Minisnap play on most of the album and even contribute a song, Nova; and does Ladybird main man Victor Crespi really start the magnificent Should I? with the line “I could say that you’re a monkey but I don’t”? I hope so.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s even a song called The Vaselines, which is (what else?!) a pagan tribute to the sexy monkeyness of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sophisticated Guitar Pop

I first heard Denmark’s Northern Portrait last autumn at a club in Gothenburg with two (warning: in-joke alert) Great Pop Mates (see comments to previous post): it was one of those too-rare moments when everyone recognised immediately a great new sound.

Northern Portrait’s debut ep, The Fallen Aristocracy, is a solid start creating what they call “sophisticated guitar pop” (think The Lodger, The Siddeleys, The Housemartins), although there are moments when it sounds a little too heavily influenced by The Smiths. Crazy – which their label Matinee are serving up as an mp3 – leans a little too much towards Smiths tribute band The Sundays’ Here’s Where The Story Ends for comfort.

The title track, though, is not just Northern Portrait’s strongest effort, but an instant classic. Taking its cue from Pulp’s retro pop grandeur, The Fallen Aristocracy is eloquent and nervy and melodramatic, combining louche degradation with the slyly insistent pop of early 80s Factory.

If they can build on this classic, then their debut album will be an essential purchase.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

East Village's inspiration: The Onlookers

If you ask East Village who their biggest influence was, they’ll all tell you it was an early 80s mod band from Slough, The Onlookers.

A mate of mine swears that East Village stole all their tricks from Hurrah!, but I think this is a little wide of the mark. There was a general trend in pre-86 British indiepop towards mod (most of Creation’s early roster for starters), of which Hurrah! were definitely a part, and which influenced bands such as East Village who never had any allegiance to the twee side of post C86 indiepop.

I got talking to Mick Bund – then of Mexico 70, previously Felt’s bass player – at Felt’s last ever gig (Tuesday 19 December, 1989; yes, I do still have the ticket stub), at which Mexico 70 were the support. I mentioned that I thought Felt’s Mexican Bandits might owe a little something to Hurrah!’s Hip Hip. Rather alarmed, Mick warned me: “Don’t ever mention that to Lawrence. He’ll go mad.”

I never did mention it to Lawrence. I only ever met him the once, 13 years later, and the moment for that particular observation had passed.

In an interview with the mod fanzine Fight Back in 1982, The Onlookers were asked, “You’ve played locally in your area quite a bit…have you built up a local following?”
Not really. Most of them come from London or just outside – High Wycombe.
East Village were from High Wycombe.

An Onlookers retrospective has been planned by Heavenly these past few years. I hope it comes out. Then we can see if The Onlookers’ unreleased Round and Round influenced Hurrah!’s Around and Around. Martin Kelly of East Village is, of course, the MD of Heavenly.

The Onlookers released just one single, You And I/Understand/Julia, on Demon in 1982. You can find all those tracks on the This Is Mod Vol 4 compilation. A year before that, they had two songs (Mystic Surrounds Me and Houseman) on a compilation album of “Slough’s most popular bands & artistes”, Subway.

You’ll notice that The Onlookers had that Groovy Cellar sound of post-punk psych-mod, popular with the TVPs and related bands in the early 80s.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Beard Rock

It’s been a good week for Beard Rock (you know, music made by men who like their whisky strong, their guitars sweetly melodic and gently countrified, and their shirts of a coarse plaid, worn open-necked; beards are optional, but pretty much the norm).

Grand Archives have in their debut album, The Grand Archives, delivered the perfect follow-up to Wilco’s Summerteeth (which was nice of them to do, seeing as it’s been nine years and Wilco still haven’t come close to that magic). This gem of a record goes from the Neil Young raggedy rock of Swan Matches to the careworn, backwoods folk of A Setting Sun that Teenage Fanclub mastered on Grand Prix, to the dolorous chiming of the funereal Index Moon that recalls the best of Michael Nesmith (and his best, I’m sure you know, is classic).

The whistling on Miniature Birds (don’t you just love these titles?) reveals the simple, irresistible pop impulse of Grand Archives; even better, Louis Reil is a dead ringer for Joe Pernice’s very best output (I’m talking about the Overcome By Happiness album and Clear Spot in particular).

The See See add the psych folk of their debut single, Up The Hill, to the Beard Rock card, but it’s the b-side, Citadel Shuffle, that really scores. Remembering The Byrds in 68, the aching lament and passionate urgency of REM in 83 and any number of psychedelic nuggets from hazily stoned nights, Citadel Shuffle marks The See See out as ones to watch.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Standing At The Edge

Most of my favourite music thrives on the twin impulses of the outsider’s disaffection and the dissident’s agitation. The defining characteristic of New Zealand’s best music has been to amplify these qualities.

I suspect geographical isolation magnifies the outsider status as well as creating an environment where the bands are not just standing at the edge of the world, but are, by making music on their own terms with scant regard to commerce, daring to jump off the edge of the world.

Conventional wisdom has it that NZ music peaked with Flying Nun’s output in the 1980s. Much fantastic music was indeed made during that time, but as usual conventional wisdom is flawed. I rate The Magick Heads’ - led by The Bats' songwriter, Robert Scott - first album, 1994’s Before We Go Under, as the best Flying Nun album. The opening track from this maudlin masterpiece of folk, subtly pop-ish guitars and punch-drunk violins is Standing At The Edge (criminally, the album’s long deleted, so listen to this song as a taster then hunt down the album).

The Magick Heads’ debut single, The Back Of Her Hand, was my favourite single of 1993 (note to pedants and teenagers: yes, I know it came out in 1992, but 15 years ago, before the internet and the cargo plane, the discerning record buyer had to rely on amphibious donkeys ferrying records 12,000 miles across the world). That’s also long deleted, so I’ve uploaded that, too.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Zombies

The Zombies were magnificent last night, playing Odessey & Oracle, one of the greatest albums.

I wonder, though, if were at the same gig as me. They seem to think Rob Zombie is the singer in The Zombies, not Colin Blunstone (who, incidentally, proved that he’s still a wonderful singer), and have illustrated their news story with the above photo. I don't think they published that picture as a joke; I think they is a thick.

The Zombies will be playing in London again on Thursday at the ChildLine benefit gig. Roger Daltrey “of The Who” (oh, that Roger Daltrey) is headlining. I’m scratching my head here, trying to think why that nice Pete Townshend isn’t playing.

That onanistic ode, Pictures of Lily, still sounds odd, doesn’t it…

Friday, March 07, 2008


Rattling folk-rock, driving jangle pop and keening vocals: it’s Minisnap, who in Bounce Around have made what masters of understatement would call “a classic album”. It really is that good.

Minisnap are essentially The Bats without Robert Scott; while removing a songwriting great (hey, did you hear 2005’s At The National Grid album? What a return to form that was) from a band would normally spell disaster, Minisnap reveals Kaye Woodward to be a songwriter of enormous talent in her own right.

Their debut ep, 2002’s In My Pocket, saw Minisnap finding their feet. It was a promising rather than strong debut, in part due to the use of a laptop, but proved it’s difficult to go wrong when you’ve got Paul Kean on bass. No one in the world, I swear, can nail a bass line so distinctively. 2004’s March Hare ep was stronger still, but it’s with Bounce Around, and the addition of an extra guitarist, that’s seen Minisnap develop into genuine contenders.

Bounce Around is full of punchy euphoria and dreamy-eyed pop, like Neil Young at his best, and the heart-stopping melodic charm and crisp delivery you always think The Shins would make if they were as good as people say they are (or as good as Minisnap in fact are).

You can hear a lot of late 80s indie in here, and not just the obvious Flying Nun comparisons: listen to Innocent and you’ll hear a guitar solo that J Mascis would sell his soul all over again to have written.

They’re playing the Windmill in Brixton on 25 April. I can’t find any information about a tour, but you’d expect more dates in the UK at least…and if they can persuade Robert Scott to come along, then The Bats could play. What a double header that would be...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Polaroid Pictures and The Lucksmiths

The news that Polaroid is stopping manufacture of its famous instant film products consigns, in one cruel stroke of the corporate pen, Hey Ya! to the dustbin of pop history.

What in 2003 seemed not just like the greatest pop song of the year, but the very future of pop music itself, has now become outdated due to the lyrical instruction:

Shake it, shake it like a Polaroid Picture, shake it, shake it
Shh you got to, shake it, shh shake it, shake it, got to shake it
(Shake it Suga') shake it like a Polaroid Picture
Admittedly, Andre 3000 was probably aware that amateur voyeurs had progressed from the Polaroid to the mobile phone or the camcorder to capture their more intimate moments, and was even five years ago using the Polaroid as part of Hey Ya!’s rather retro feel.

But in a few years’ time, a new generation will never know what it means to shake it like a Polaroid Picture. Unless they’re taught by Tali White, Lucksmiths singer by night, schoolteacher by day and standard-bearer for traditional values at all times, who here covers the song.

When Tali sings "Now ladies I want to see you on your baddest behaviour/Give me some sugar I'm your neighbour", you can almost forget that his CV reads “can play the guitar, can sing and can count to ten. I would make a perfect presenter for PlaySchool”. Almost.