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   Friday, November 28, 2003  
Blimey, Wheat!
Listening to Closer to mercury, track 9 on new album Per second, per second, per second..every second is to discover just how far this band has moved on/progressed/descended [delete as applicable]. It sounds in places like something from the Beach Boys - 1980s Beach Boys that is. Superficially, Go get the cops could have strayed in from Boy Band Land; this song also appears to quote straightfacedly from cheesy Bob Seger lurve song We've got tonight. And the terms 'Strings arranged by..' and 'Programming by..' crop up regularly in the sleeve notes.

So that would be 'blimey bad' as opposed to 'blimey good' then, right?

Coming all of four years after their second album Hope and Adams it's quite probable that this new record will be the first many will have heard of Wheat. Diehards lamenting the slightly off-centre and - warning: Reviewer-speke ahead - bruised indie-pop of the previous albums might argue that this is their best hope. The fact is Wheat have gone from off-centre to, Kappow!, bang centre. This is Big Pop.

Imagine Gregg Alexander (of New Radicals/You get what you give fame) hijacking U2 and you're some of the way there. This blog is also tempted, with tracks like the glam-stomping Can't wash it off and Closer to mercury's high pop, to reference someone like Owsley but for the fact he's even more unknown than Wheat. Generic chord changes loom large, Breathe and Life still applies, tracks 2 and 4, actually employing the the same one. So, how can all this be acceptable?, you cry. Why should we give them the benefit of the doubt?
Well, because this is Wheat. Because reallyrather knows where Scott, Ricky and Brendan have come from; so far they have no marks against. Because any obviousness here is generally upended by leftfield lyrics. And because 90% of these tunes are just stonking great pop.

Per second.. isn't a total departure. The jumping off point from it's predecessor Hope & Adams might be No-one ever told me; it wouldn't be rendered quite so slinkily but Off the pedestal could also sit easily on the new record. Producer Dave Fridmann is still on board and between them they produce a fizzling, squizzling mesh of synth sounds, big drums, strummy guitars and, it has to be said, the odd power chord. Like many acts that find favour hereabouts, Wheat have always given good tambo and many of the tracks come shimmeringly encrusted. And, of course, there Scott's fainting fall vocals.

Originally on a label called Sugar Free, Wheat now come sugar-frosted. As has been noted elsewhere, several of these songs are the very definition of why radio was invented. I met a girl and Some days, with their helium-filled 'hoo-hoo-hoos', don't take much getting, and in World united already they have the Fountains of Wayne's wet dream of a chorus, a stop-what-you're-doing/bounce-around-the-room beauty. Sure, there are occasional wince-inducing moments - the aforesaid Bob Seger incident, a 'Chet Baker' coda to the otherwise terrific This rough magic - and there's a lurking Dawson's Creekiness about some of it. But the fact is reallyrather has had this album for several weeks now and has played it just about every day. All of it. So there it is.

Elsewhere they say: 'Per Second leaves the listener a little unsteady. It’s filled with catchy choruses that are sardonic and bitter. The album has an acoustic indie feel but retains all the elements of a pop album, from slick production to radio-friendly anthems. In the end, this unsteadiness coupled with the ability to waver between the typical and unusual is what separates Wheat from the overabundance of pop bands and makes Per Second a noteworthy album'

But Scott's still on the defensive: "If I piss in a cup and recorded it now, people would say, ‘You used to do that better.’ "

'5 stars...Debut of the year,' says today's Independent of The Soul Sessions by blonde Brit teenager Joss Stone. OK, it's hard to get away from the sheer improbability of the whole thing but this is another record reallyrather has barely stopped spinning this past month...

Yo ho ho, etc...
An early Christmas present from Gingersol - Steve & Seth will join Minibar at the 12 Bar in London on Dec 18...
   posted by SMc at 2:11 AM |

   Tuesday, November 11, 2003  
Across town through the murky dampness to east London last Sunday for a Dickens of a night at The Spitz. Seattle 4-piece The Long Winters ripped into their set with such compelling force that partway through reallyrather re-awoke to the fact they weren't the headliners and that, in theory, the best was still to come. The good-natured smarts which inform the Winters' music (and John Broderick & Sean Nelson's between-songs banter) quickly engaged the throng. From their (frankly patchy) debut came Car parts, Samaritan and Medicine cabinet pirate, the latter a revelation rendered as the big rock climax. With cherries every way you turn on this year's When I pretend to fall, tonight they picked all the ones beginning with 'S' - Scared straight, Stupid, Shapes - plus the free-wheeling Cinnamon (the band detouring into NY's Cinnamon girl halfway through).
Winters' keyboardist Sean Nelson's high, hard harmonies tellingly off-set writer John Broderick's melodies, a role mirrored - to yet greater effect - by Scott Danborn in Centro-matic. (There is one big difference live, though, the former being given to enthusiastic bouncing while the latter remains resolutely earthbound.) Danborn's cherubic features are reconfigured to 'bawling brat' mode as he hits the notes in harness with his Don Quixote, guitarist/songwriter Will Johnson. And, oh!, the fuzzy, bombastic magnificence of it all! From (exemplary) drummer Matt Pence's first rapid-fire rimshots ushering in Fountains of fire through to the mightily kinetic climax of Blisters may come via a clutch of anthems from new album, Centro-matic stood and delivered. Nothing less than a Texan indie-rocking force of nature, just when will the kids catch on?

Now, there's hardly a shortage of material but should your appetite for all things Centro-matic-shaped prove insatiable, where to turn? Well, first stop, Little Grizzly. Yes, they're from the same town (Denton) and yes, they're unmistakably 'School of..' (Sleep, foreign engine!) but, no, Centro-matic don't seem to mind at all. Will, Matt and Scott have all leant a hand in bringing the band's output to disc, though creative force George Neal has been out-punched about six songs to one by Will J. over the past five years or so. Posting notice of an upcoming solo show, the LG website moans, "Maybe George will finally have some new songs ready. He is old and lazy and too concerned about his rapid hair-loss to get off his butt anymore and actually sit down an write a friggin' song." Now over two years old, their last album proper was I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared and this blog would be lying if it said it wasn't a slightly more acquired taste than CM. There's a bit more of a punk-folk ethic at work and, frankly, there's hollerin'. But it's mostly good stuff (with a pair of particularly affecting ballads) and Johnson disciples will feel right at home...

Finally, all Will Johnson completists will need to acquire Lost Notes from Forgotten Songs, released by post-rock instrumentalists The Six Parts Seven on Nov 18. They've invited a bunch of guest vocalists to rearrange and put words to some of their old tunes, people like Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse) and the aforesaid Will J. Here's an early review...

Of course this isn't the first time T6P7 have played backing band. They helped in no small measure to colour in Denison Witmer's compositions on last year's wonderful Philadephia songs (which if you don't already you really should own). And in another coincidental collision of house favourites, Denison will spend the second half of this month touring in harness with...Sufjan Stevens! At one point it even appears they'll be sharing a bill with Damien Jurado and Rosie Thomas - is there a collective noun for singer-songwriters?

Brand new edition of UK indie zine Comes With A Smile out now feat. M.Ward, Joe Henry, James William Hindle, etc...

Seems Oranger may have chosen an unfortunate time to put out album no.3, what with all the hoop-la over the new Shins album. Admirable as the latter is, reallyrather confesses to finding it hard to love and, in any retro-psych-pop showdown, is happy to fight the SanFrancisco trio's corner. As smart and tune-packed as their previous two albums have been, Shutdown the sun is Oranger's most cohesive (but still varied) set to date. Not dissimilar in range and style to the Mother Hips' Green hills of earth, there are few if any weak spots across the 11 tracks and 38 minutes.
Cut off yer thumbs woozy, twinkling twang is followed by perhaps the record's most obvious cut, the chugging pop of Going under. Sure, it's been done before - by themselves (Eggtooth, Collapsed in the superdome), by Grandaddy, FoW, Holiday With Maggie - but it's still pathetically pleasing. The electric guitar settings remain the same on Bluest glass eye sea but the whole is airier and more snappily arranged. Just a little dumb gets a bit more soft-focus while elsewhere heavy pop values and signature harmonies abound. And if you're quick off the mark, the first few hundred or so copies come with a bonus disc of previously unreleased tracks, 34 to be precise. Ropey old filler you'd assume, wrongly; the first time reallyrather reached for the remote was track 20. Top value from the boys Oranger...
   posted by SMc at 8:13 AM |