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   Thursday, May 29, 2003  
Part way through the opening number of The Be Good Tanyas' Oxford Street in-store set back in March a heavily pregnant but still bewitching Frazey Ford was somewhat less than thrilled to notice that her quite-big-enough-already-thanks-very-much figure was being simultaneously relayed onto a giant screen behind the band. 'I'm not continuing 'til it's turned off,' she said in a lighthearted but-I-actually-mean-it kind of way. An operative scurried. The Tanyas' touring behind new album Chinatown being necessarily abbreviated, they've since returned home, nature has taken it's course and Frazey has recently become mother to a baby boy. 7.5lb and all is fine, apparently. No more Tanyas action 'til next year...

...but The Tyde's a-comin' in though - the UK dates of their European tour are:
Tue July 1 London, Water Rats
July 2 Nottingham, The Social
July 3 Liverpool, Barfly
Featuring reallyrather's official Song of the Summer (Go ask yer Dad), new album Twice wrings a tasty 8-out-of-10 from this week's NME...

The Good Stuff. It's out there somewhere, we know it is. Tracking it down without wasting too much money is the aim here. Do the research, minimize the risk of buying something that you know the first time you play it you're never going to do so again. But once in a while you take a flyer based on the slimmest evidence and you get lucky. Not 'Bullseye!' necessarily but certainly the next ring out. Take a bow then, Palaxy Tracks.
To the Chicago abyss, track 8 on this Austin band's 2nd release Cedarland, is the sort of number that makes reallyrather late for things. Not bullseye - not Mull Historical's Animal cannibus, Rilo Kiley's Spectacular views or Art class by Superchunk - but not far off. It doesn't break any moulds; indeed, a New Order-shaped one may have played a part in it's assembly. But it's mid-tempo mix of choppy/grinding/ringing guitars underneath archetypal indie-rock almost-singing firmly hits this blog's spot. So, you ask, is this the stand-out One Good Track which most half-decent bands can generally muster? Crucially, fact, make that NO!
Cedarland registers zero on the tracks-to-skip-ometer. Ranging from twinkling/churning indie to listless mandolin-spiked pop via stretches of post-rock-lite and more, even it's flatter moments are ultimately redeemed and rewarding. Lovely opener The sediment chimes and pulses softly in a Yo La Tengo sort of way. The sharper thwack of The wasp complete with deeply satisfying thick guitars could've come straight off the last Pedro the Lion album. (Girls on bikes completes a trinity of fine crunchy rockers.) The Pedro-ish strains are carried over into Walking backwards mixed up with dashes of Depeche Mode moodiness and REM melodic loveliness - it works, believe. The most out-of-step number here is the tightly-sprung Aim for Providence powered by the kind of drum loop & keyboard combination that's all over Slowreader's '02 debut. More typically, the rest of the album is filled with soft, trilling guitars and warm, bubbling-under keyboards (many courtesy of Okkervil River/Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff). Straightforwardly produced (by songwriter/vocalist Brandon Durham) and modestly presented, Cedarland is a good, good place to go... will be, in all probability, Eveningland. That's the tentative title of the second album from Hem which the band 'will start recording in New York shortly'...

Already in the can and almost ready to ship is Leap of folly, album no.2 from Andrew and Beth aka The Trolleyvox. Can they top the sparkling guitar pop of Ephemera for the future? Your investigations begin here...

'"All of the DJs at WQDR are fans of Tift Merritt,' [programme director] Lisa McKay says. "We all took the album home and listened to it, and it was just a lovely CD." So why don't they play it on the air? "What would be on the playlist? Which one? Am I just supposed to listen to the whole CD and pick one out?''
Er, ideally, yes! In an excellent feature, a US local newspaper investigates why a pretty hot local artist can't get played on her local station. Read 'Why can't you hear Tift Merritt on the radio?' and weep...
   posted by SMc at 4:37 AM |

   Sunday, May 25, 2003  
To the Arts Cafe Saturday night where M. Ward, his guitar and harmonicas held a packed crowd enthralled from first to last. Physically embodying his understated, scuffed sound, Ward placed the mic quite low down obliging him to address it in slightly crouched, stooping fashion. Flashing up left-eye biased glances from beneath his cap and touselled mop, truly he is the Lt. Columbo of rock. And he's certainly got it all worked out.
With his instantly distinctive croaky whisper Ward opened with his smartly ironic snails-pace reworking of Bowie's Let's dance, setting off a contagion of helpless grins which, for one reason or another, were to remain pretty much in place thoughout. It was one of about five cover versions - including Vic Chesnutt's Where were you, Louis Armstrong's Someday you'll be sorry and Dylan's Buckets of rain - which served, as much as anything, to highlight the sheer quality of his own material. From latest album Transfiguation of Vincent we heard Sad, sad song, stripped of ominous rhythm section but featuring Ward's vocal at it's most strident; Outta my head and the gorgeous Undertaker, Ward deploying his sweet falsetto to heart-stopping effect as the tune detoured into the refrain from The Beatles' You never give me your money.
Also from the new album, Duet for guitars #3 was one of several instrumentals showcasing Ward's dazzlingly idiosyncratic guitar playing. Though he often tours with a band, on numbers like this they'd surely be superfluous. Quite where all the elements of the sound come from reallyrather is at a lost to explain. A lot of the time the real action's in the hyperactive picking of the right hand, with only minimal fretting of the neck held at 45 degrees. Much like his singing, it seems an intuitive style with feel prevailing over (formidable) technique.
From End of Amnesia came Half moon, Carolina and, happily, blog favourite O'Brien which figured about halfway through the set. Things were rounded out at the Arts Cafe with a Beach Boys-based instrumental but that apparently wasn't quite it for the night as Ward announced he'd being playing some more after midnight at the Buffalo Bar at Highbury Corner. Whether he did or not reallyrather can't say but your correspondent did manage a brief chat with Matt before he left. Re the upcoming Rilo Kiley connection, he confirmed this blog's guess that it has come about through their mutual association with Bright Eyes. Though RK will indeed moonlight as his backing band they'll also be playing their own set at the shows which begin on the West Coast (??LA July 16??) but which will "go all over". Ward hooks up with Jenny, Blake & co. next month to work out a set...

reallyrather is happy to report it's connoisseurship of Europap was shot to pieces last night as blog Eurovision Song Contest tip Norway went the way of all good each-way bets and finished fourth. Should have known that a Turkey would prevail...
   posted by SMc at 7:50 AM |

   Thursday, May 22, 2003  
There really ought to have been a big old mirrorball hanging from the Scala's ceiling Monday night dappling those assembled in the same faded dancehall nostalgia as that which billowed out from Richard Hawley and his band up on stage. After one of the fouler May days of recent memory, reallyrather was in two minds right up to the last as to whether to bother trekking to darkest King's Cross for this one. Arriving just as Hawley came on, any doubts were quickly washed away by the soothing sonorous refrain of opener Coming home. The first song he ever recorded as a solo artist, then as now it set the mood for all that followed. If someone were to dismiss 'the Hawley Sound' - it's definitely a Sound, and it's just the one - as, say, Bobby Goldsboro-meets-the theme from Tales of the Unexpected this blog couldn't really muster much of a defence. Over the course of two-and-a-half albums the music hasn't strayed an inch from the gorgeously assured recreation of Croonerville, USA (by way of Sheffield). Almost every other song sounds like 'the last dance' from the Friday night hop c.1960.
Not that Hawley was around then, of course, but his apparently inspirational (and musical) father was. Dad was also present on Monday night in the form of his battered old leather bomber jacket - "He wore this when he played with Joe Cocker," Hawley said proudly. There was plenty more salty, blokish banter throughout the night, his ongoing dialogue with the audience referencing such as The Generation Game, Sham69, Marathon Man - all firmly nailing his (and pretty much the whole crowd's) vintage. Unsurprisingly, lastest album Lowedges featured prominently (tho' he admirably didn't go out of his way to flog it) but, with three encores, all corners of his repertoire were visited. With his resonant dusky vocal and alternating between acoustic guitar and - naturellment - a great big hollow-bodied, tremolo-armed electric, Hawley and his trusty 4-piece band rendered it all pretty faithfully. But some songs - Something is, Run to me, The only road - particularly grew with the vigour of live performance. And every number benefitted from the sparkling assists of guitarist Shez Sheridan. Totally in tune with the retro vibe Hawley is mining, his 'less is more' approach (whether via a fearsome-looking 12-string monster or improvised lap steel) was exemplary.
Unfortunately, Hawley suffers a finger condition which restricts his touring. Should the opportunity present itself he's definitely worthy of your support. A sound bloke in every respect...

"'We have never ever in our lives heard a male vocalist who sounds this much like a girl. The vocals do take a bit of getting used to. After one gets past the initial stumbling becomes obvious that he is an extraordinarily gifted singer/songwriter. The songs have a wonderfully classic sound that one rarely hears in such a young artist"
'His voice is the true draw to the music, as it soars almost angelically over soft acoustic guitar, layering on some beautiful harmonies...highly recommended'
''If you like your singer songwiters unique sounding and extremely talented, then he's your best bet. Get Gus Van Sant on the phone, this guy is going to be huge.'
All taken from reviews of an '03 debut solo album by Jeff Hanson - no, reallyrather's never heard of him either. Apparently, he's soon to tour with blog favourite Denison Witmer and if he's good enough for Denison...

And almost 18 months after it's original release, reivews of Gingersol's Trainwreck.. continue to dribble in: ''Such an abundance of riches...Gingersol recall a time when Wilco played straight-up country rock with grade-A production and occasional innovative flourishes..a winner.' Hey, Splendid, where have you been?!...
   posted by SMc at 10:49 AM |

   Friday, May 16, 2003  
Beyond spooky...
Since this blog began few acts have featured more regularly than LA's alt-pop wonders Rilo Kiley; 2002's 2nd album rated no.1 on the reallyrather year-end list. Leading the charge here this year is scintillating troubadour M. Ward. Hitherto entirely unconnected, what are we to make of this news from Ward's US label Merge: "Look for him in your town later this summer/fall on tour with Rilo Kiley moonlighting as his backing band!" !!! at least, surely?! It's only a guess but this maybe has something to do with Bright Eyes. RK shifted to Saddle Creek Records to put out The execution of all things. Saddle Creek house producer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis had a sizeable hand in how it all came out. He also featured in the Bright Eyes line-up which toured last year; support act on quite a few of the band's US dates was Matt Ward... Whatever, short of The Be Good Tanyas being roped in as backing singers, it's something of a reallyrather dream ticket, if faintly improbable. A band like, say, Tracker would have been a more obvious choice for Ward to recruit but then hey, who really wants obvious?...

...and Tracker will feature on the first compilation from new UK label Slow Noir: "Possibly the world's first Czech-Italian-Scottish co-production...the label hopes to feature and to promote some of the best atmospheric and melancholic alternative rock and electronica/post rock acts..."

Continuing the subject of odd alliances, who have REM invited, specially like, to open their UK shows in July? Only Oranger! Hopefully, San Francisco's smart retro-popsters will fit in the odd club date while they're over. The band claim to have a song from Quiet Vibration Land on the soundtrack of the spanking good drama The Secretary which opened in the UK this week. But, giving the movie it's closest attention (in the interests of Art, you understand), reallyrather failed to spot it...

"Has the little scandal about the balalaikas affected you at all?" - the official Eurovision site posts an interview with our boy Jostein Hasselgard. Oh dear, could this affair affect blog tip Norway's chances? Well, not according to the bookmakers - the 20-1 available last week has now gone...

Turning to a music contest with fractionally more cred (only fractionally, mind), it's time to play guess the Mercury Music Prize 2003 nominees. A fun game for all the family, the shortlist doesn't come out 'til late summertime, but reallyrather suggests that these will be there:
Athlete / Vehicles & animals- an almost archetypal listee. An under-exposed debut album, mildly eclectic but highly accessible, must have a fair chance of going one better than The Bees, The Coral, etc
Beth Gibbons & Rustin' Man - this may be all they need to cover the folky angle
Four Tet / Rounds - Contemporary beats but too experimental to preclude the committee having to also find a conventional dance album to list
Coldplay / A rush of blood.. - not since Pulp's Different class won in '96 has a big-time monster seller won but sadly they must be favourites
The Libertines / Up the bracket
...and possibly Hell is For Heroes' efficiently piledriving Neon handshake.
The new Radiohead, Blur and Super Furrys albums may or may not qualify. A Booker-style 'long list' it would probably rope in the likes of Mull Historical Society and Richard Hawley (but neither's latest release tops it's predecessor), and Tom Harcourt and Ed Mcrae - or should that be... A long long list might extend to Feeder and the Vessels' safe but sound debut. The tension, er, mounts...

'"This prejudice against 'too-smartness' has infected the American culture so much that even in our rareified, middle-class, nancy-boy rock world there are social pressures to be less verbal, less curious, and less accepting. In indie-rock the dumbing down manifests itself differently, as our peers outdo each other in who can be more autistic, more emotionally damaged, more gape-mouthed and stunned.' From a short essay, 'On the topic of pretentiousness' by the Long Winters John Broderick as posted recently here...

Whoo hoo! again:
Pedro the Lion's first European jaunt is now confirmed - the UK dates are:
26 June London @ The Garage
27 June Nottingham @ The Rescue Rooms
29 June Glasgow @ The Barfly
To mark this long-awaited event, a reallyrather giveaway (of sorts). A mint copy of last year's brilliant album Control awaits the sender of the most tempting reciprocal trade. Great long lists of albums you're sick of/never really liked in the first place/etc welcome at the above email until May 31...
   posted by SMc at 8:21 AM |

   Monday, May 05, 2003  
..and from the best possible source, Nadine haven't signed on the line with anyone just yet, contrary to earlier reports. But, presumably after next album Strange seasons does finally appear, it seems some lucky folks will get to see them tour with Gingersol, no less..
...reallyrather is still the only place in the whole country interested in LA indie-pop marvelsRilo Kiley. The execution of all things is released in the UK on May 19 - no reviews in either the new (May) editions of either Q or Uncut, however..
...Pedro the Lion are at last getting over to the UK - well, Nottingham's Rescue Rooms are advertising a show on the June 27. Can this be? Here's hoping..
..not apparently but actually, Cedarland by Palaxy Tracks crept out last month. Soft, textured Texan indie, the band relocated from Austin to Chicago 'so they could record with guys not wearing cowboys hats, such as members of the Sea & Cake and Archer Prewitt, which is AGAINST THE LAW in Texas' (ha!). Okkervil/Shearwater's Will and Jonathan feature as well. reallyrather is on the case and will report back...

OK, in a detour from this blog's normal preoccupation (ie. music), it's reallyrather's second Eurovision Song Contest betting guide. After going so close last year (blog tip Malta being cruelly denied by the scoring of the final jury), where oh where is our money to go in '03 you cry. Once again reallyrather has gone way beyond the call of duty and heard all 26 entries. Unusually, this year there's a red-hot favourite in the form of Russia's already high-profile t.A.T.u but this may work in our favour. Just as the presence of Tiger Woods in any golf tournament pushes out the odds of all other contenders, so t.A.T.u has scewed this market. Take out them and it's a pretty open affair. And luckily enough we can ignore t.A.T.u as it's hysterical, synthesized dance-floor dross. Oh, it seems we've begun:

Austria - jaw-droppingly crass even by this event's standards! Have they no shame?
Belgium - inoffensive sub-Celt tosh but tosh nevertheless
Croatia - dodgy Balkan Britney - no chance
Cyprus - cringe-making, cliche-ridden bilge
Estonia - Blow Monkeys do theme for feeble teen drama cable TV series
France - absolutely prototypical euro-chanteuse on autopilot
Germany - "Let's get happy, let's be gay!" Kiddies singalong with usual mindnumbing disco track and lyrics. Not without a chance, therefore...
Greece - out-of-time power balladry, Mariah Carey if she'd been around in the Seventies
Iceland - by-numbers shiny pop-rocker but not appalling so chances
Ireland - have lately seemed determined not bring the Contest back to Ireland. Still on course...
Israel - clueless dross
Latvia - not a shocker, but no chance
Malta - 2nd last time, this very thin effort has no chance this year
Netherlands - another 70s pop-disco throwback, easily dismissed
Norway - Norway's David Sneddon? Sappy arm-waver with place potential
Poland - remember those Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes power duets? This is worse, so much worse..
Portugal - just lazy, lazy, lazy
Romania - pathetic techno tosh
Russia - if this pair didn't already have a profile this wouldn't stand a chance. Obvious hot favourite but rubbish..
Slovenia - Entitled Nanana, they've obviously done their research; hackneyed Euro-tosh
Spain - ditto; leaves no trace whatsoever
Sweden - from a country with such a pop pedigree, a mind-numbing disgrace
Turkey - unlovable Turkish streetbeats
Ukraine - Hasta la vista, baby?! Yep, it's that original...
UK - vaccuum-packed, blatantly constructed for mass Euro-appeal

So where, apart from up to our necks in lazy, Midi-driven Euro-disco dross, does that leave us? If you're looking for an outright winner outside of the favourite, it might pay to side with Iceland's Birgitta. She's drawn to go first which mightn't be a handicap (3 past winners have been first up). But it's reallyrather's hunch that Norway's wimpy piano ballad with earnest Jostein Hasselgard doing his best David Cassidy might garner enough anti-disco protest votes along the way the push it into the first three. So, their 'Nil points' notoriety notwithstanding, it's Norway each-way, best-priced 20-1 (latest odds). Of course, you can always go and do your own blasted research...
   posted by SMc at 7:30 AM |