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   Sunday, April 25, 2004  
A bit like eggs, the music we call Pop is generally best when fresh. The constituent parts can be deftly whipped up into an impressive, crowd-pleasing souffle or fumbled to the floor creating merely a hideous mess. The Scots have proved themselves particularly adept egg-jugglers in the past and the early form shown by the latest troupe of tartan melodists to emerge suggests things aren't about to get sticky underfoot. To the Arts Cafe Wednesday for a (London debut?) show by engaging Edinburgh five-piece Aberfeldy.
It's the conventional set-up - canny songsmith on guitar and vocals backed by his chums on bass, drums, glockenspiel and..glockenspiel. Yes, triple bonus points already for Aberfeldy, trumping the likes of Thin Lizzy's twin lead-guitars with a twin glock attack! Sarah and Ruth wield the toy hammers with appealing diligence. They also supply fiddle, keyboards and notable harmonies in fleshing out band leader Riley Briggs' compositions.
A gangling prescence, Briggs affects a nonchalance which is undermined time and again by the focus and attention to detail evident in the songs. There's a clear sensibility at work here, a craft in the arrangements which are in turn handled with an understated confidence and glee by the band.
With it's firm grasp of structure and a notably grounded rhythm section Aberfeldy could perhaps be the Fleetwood Mac of indie twee. If you need signposts, there are echoes here of the likes of the Trashcans, Belle & Sebastian, The Beautiful South, the Go-betweens. Love is an arrow is a particularly fine little mover which could be a cut from the last Josh Rouse record, 1972. Unhateable, basically.
In today's Observer, chart darlings Keane are properly damned as 'Nice music for nice people'. Just because Rough Trade are getting behind them, do the immediately accessible 3-minute indie-popisms of Aberfeldy amount to anything more? On first hearing at least (and not solely because of the hot glockenspiel action), reallyrather is voting 'Yes'...
Aberfeldy | Love is an arrow mp3

Aberfeldy would be an ideal opener for Rilo Kiley next time they're over. As it is they will be supporting fellow Rough Trader Sufjan Stevens at the Bush Hall in June. It's certainly a less obvious pairing but if Sufjan's on his own and could use a bit of help projecting his music (which frankly, on past experience, he could) the Aberfeldy gang could surely muck in on epics like Detroit and They also mourn who do not wear black from last year's sustaining wonder, Greeting from Michigan....
It took about six months for awareness of that album to seep through. Conversely, folks have been all over this spring's follow-up Seven swans like a rash from pre-release and the emerging consensus is that, hey, it's actually better. Which, of course, it's not. Michigan was a vaultingly ambitious music suite, over-stuffed for sure but endlessly compelling and marvellously eclectic. Seven swans certainly has a more homogenous, consistent tone inducing a contemplative, staring-off-into-the-middle-distance state of being. But Michigan's plangent peaks (Romulus, Flint) and generally exhilarating dynamics aren't matched (reached for?) here.
That said, Seven swans effortlessly confirms Stevens' place at the head of the indie-folk pack and gets an unreserved double thumbs-up. If Iron & Wine is the soft round stone on the bed of the stream, Stevens is the constant motion above it, the cool, clear water rippling, eddying. There's a slightly puritanical air, a rigour at play which presently sets Stevens apart. The addition of drums, bells and strings on the final track, The transfiguration, takes us closest to Michigan's extended extravagance but a more abstemious, sub-3 minute rule generally prevails. The defining combination of layered, insistent banjos and repeating, unadorned vocals drill home the (often Christian-heavy) poetry gently but firmly. There are no weak moments here. In a very real sense (dearly beloved), Sufjan Stevens is currently in very inspired form indeed...

..making Seven swans an '04 essential alongside Joanna Newsom's The milk-eyed mender. Is this going to be another that takes half-a-year to break out? "Goddamn!" And while we're about it, here's another log for the fire: 'Each song feels lit up by a full moon, shiny and beautiful and glowing within'. "You can’t really approach singing and writing songs with anything other than a wholehearted acceptance of whatever comes out,' Newsom told Dusted last week, 'And there’s a certain level of, “I’m just going to open my mouth, and what comes out, comes out.
   posted by SMc at 7:35 AM |

   Friday, April 16, 2004  
"Joe Pernice finally made a cautious enquiry about whether or not we were Christians and I told him to take a flying fuck at a rolling donut. Good times."
Indeed, indeed. Seattle's bold, caustic janglemeisters The Long Winters who made plenty of new friends with album no.2, last year's When I pretend to fall, are touring the US with the Pernice Brothers. New today, read the latest of big John Roderick's notes from the road here. And there's more good/bad news re. the band:

Good news - "Here at Flora, we've been hard at work on a great sounding new record from the Long Winters for Barsuk. We'll be finishing it up in July as they hit the road for the next several months," reports producer/precussionist Tucker Martine. Who he? Well, he did the honours on the last two Laura Veirs albums, a track or two on the new Jim White record (which pulls off a rare '5 stars' double in today's Indy and Guardian) and has New skin, his own 'ambient audio-file journey', just out via FilmGuerrero...

Bad news - Sean Nelson has left the band. Not that he wrote any of the songs but his high harmonies (hit those notes, guys), enthusiastic tambourine-wielding and waggish banter played no small part in making last year's London shows such good value...

Good news - they're coming back to Europe in May...

Bad news - but not to the UK it seems. Spain, Austria, Belgium, lots of little towns in Holland, but not here...

But hey, as reported, 'sensitive singer-songwriter' Denison Witmer is definitely coming. Philadelphia songs, finally out here on Monday, ranked no.4 on this blog's year-end list for 2002. Judging by this early UK review - 'Quite possibly one of the best things you'll hear all year' - it might make a few '04 lists as well. Those dates (supporting Charlemagne unless excepted):
May 15 Brighton, Hanbury Ballroom
16 Cardiff, Chapter Arts
17 London, 21 Bar
18 Winchester, Railway Inn
19 London, Borderline (w/ Rosie Thomas, Iron and Wine)
20 TBA
21 Stoke, Talbot Hotel
22 Leicester, The Musician
23 London, The Windmill in Brixton
25 Sheffield, The Casbah
26 Manchester, Star and Garter
27 Hull, The Aldelphi
28 Cambridge, The Portland Arms
30 Newcastle, The Tyne
June 2 Aberdeen, Drakes

And shock news re the band that topped out the reallyrather '02 list - Rilo Kiley have left Saddle Creek and signed to a major! Exactly which major isn't quite clear as yet but indieville is all a-quiver. However, having been fervently behind Jenny and the guys since the days of Take-offs and landings, this blog isn't about to get - how you say - all snooty on their ass. Whoever's writing the cheques they must have heard some damned whizzo tunes is what I'm thinking...

'If there's a better debut in store for this year, I'm ridiculously excited to hear it' - Dusted Mag this week on Joanna Newsom's wonderous Milk-eyed mender (see below). Go, Jo...

...and here's Popmatters on the new Gingersol: 'This is a record with a big sound, with gorgeous pop hooks, with meticulous production choices...intelligent, thoughtful, rootsy rock'. Precisely...

Is it sunny where you are? Blimey, a day like this has been a long time coming in London and deserves to big fat optimistic blast of a tune to go with it. And reallyrather has just the thing. So open the window, crank up the volume, point the speakers to the world and let 'em all have this from the debut album of Swedish 9-piece The Legends. Ye gods...
   posted by SMc at 11:09 AM |

   Saturday, April 03, 2004  
'And we all fall down slack-jawed to marvel at words!'

That's actual words like 'ululate', 'rheum' and - most magnificently and perhaps representing a first in the annals of popular song - 'dirigible', and idiosyncratic made-up words like 'gasplessly', 'goneness' and 'nonsleepy'. Yes indeed, there's head-scratchingly delightful expressiveness

'When you go away
I am big-boned and fey'

at every turn on the formal debut album from twentysomething alt-harpist Joanna Newsom. And with it, verily, Spring is sprung.

The milk-eyed mender (on Drag City) is a singularly captivating bow. Spare but never austere, it's uncompromising without being 'difficult'. These are simply songs after all - some quite folky, others less easy to classify - and many uncommonly pretty ones at that. The fact that her instrument of choice is the classical harp would normally be enough to make her stand out from the neo-folk-pop pack but this aspect is unfortunately destined to be totally overshadowed by discussion of The Voice. There aren't many out there as yet but every review of this record you're likely to read will be dominated by this factor. Names like Kate Bush and Bjork will be endlessly cited. reallyrather probably wouldn't be thanked but Lisa from The Simpsons might be as good a pointer as any. Child-like, by turns penetrating and soft, it's a fearless, charming and thrilling thing, much like the record itself wherein...

...loveliness abounds. Bridges and balloons and Sprout and the bean, at once robust and twinkling, set the tone - just rhythmically picked harp plus vocal - and the standard. They're at least matched further in by wistful charmers like Swansea, Cassiopeia and "En Gallop" (the latter containing one of few extended harp breaks). The book of right-on, a uniquely swinging little plucker with a deeply embedded groove, stands out also as the least lyrically baffling, apparently treating the frustrating self-conciousness of New Man:

And even when you touch my face
You know your place

Switching to piano/harpsicord on a couple of songs brings out an extra vocal stridency - a Tom Lehrer-like stomp drives Inflamatory writ, Newsom's voice taking on an Oberstian quaver midway - but the Wurlitzer has a more calming effect. Augmented by Noah Georgeson's slide guitar glances, the sweet and lovely This side of the blue might be the record's best hope for radio (but don't hold your breath).
Wide-eyed but rooted, determined but not intense, The milked-eyed mender shouldn't be bought for novelty value, or as a badge of anyone's outre taste, but simply for the rather wonderful music. Sam Parton of The Be Good Tanyas, Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, Andy Partridge, Rosie Thomas, Nina Nastasia - reallyrather is guessing that folks like these will 'get' it. You should get it too...

Speaking of the Be Good Tanyas, things seem to be stirring at last, at least on the website...

The latest edition of Comes With A Smile is just out featuring interviews & music from Richmond Fontaine, Sloan, Limbeck, Clem Snide, etc...

...and a good bet to feature in the next edition is The last Town Chorus who recently dipped their toe into Europe with a few London dates. To help conjure up their distinctive brand of moody twang-noir Megan (lap steel) and Nat (guitar) brought along keyboards ally Greg whose photo-diary of the trip is up over here. And their eponymous debut album picks up a review over at BBC Collective...

Another duo making a low-key London debut is Sweden's Laurel Music who are pencilled in at ROTA, the free afternoon session at Notting Hill Arts Club on April 10. Sweet, guileless country pop seems to be their thing - mmmm - and new little UK indie Stereo Test Kit Records (who?, how?) is bringing to the people...
Laurel Music | stereo test kit records | the way love goes mp3

So, they go and put out the reallyrather album of the year for 2003 and then this happens:
'"A lot of people are misunderstanding what's going on. We're going to make an official announcement when we need to." So consider this an unofficial announcement: Nadine as we know it is ending. The full band is expected to wind down in May, with Reichmann and Rauner continuing as a duo.' STLtoday has the scoop...

Meanwhile, Denison Witmer, set to tour the UK in harness with Charlemagne, calls by the 12 Bar Club in London May 17...
   posted by SMc at 10:16 AM |