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   Tuesday, November 29, 2005  
Joined at the hip...

Fittingly, this year's post-Arcadian indiezine pacesetters Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Wolf Parade pass through town within a week of one another. Upgraded ('due to overwhelming popular demand') from the 100 Club, CYHSY subjected themselves to the unforgiving school hall acoustics of ULU where it always helps to use broad brushstrokes. As Mull Historical Society proved on this blog's last visit here, tricksy arrangements and subtle instrumental details tend to founder whilst any vocal, er, rough edges are harshly exposed. As Simon Price of the Indy on Sunday exaggerated:
'Glancing around me, there are lots of startled "What the hell is this?" expressions.. Alec Ounsworth yelping and screeching like pig with it's foot in a snare..I'm torn between a desire to commit murder and a desire to amputate my own ears without anaesthtic.'
reallyrather felt no such urges but can understand. Ounsworth's queasy, off-the-map voice is a core element of this band's noise, tamed in the studio but not an easy thing to control in the wild. The equally key ringing guitar figures kind of lost the battle as the unassuming band rattled through their debut release amidst the suitably playful array of helium-filled balloons. The (Neil Young?) cover in the encore was the only real mis-step, too drearily straight-forward compared to the band's own jangly, lithe exuberance. On this evidence a better record than a night out, but then the record is a top, top thing... Marathonpacks explains in ranking it no.4 on his stoutly reasoned Top 50 for '05: 'The top 20 is pretty untouchable (read: near-perfect or perfect), and the other thirty are damn good, too. I'd recommend any of these records to anyone, because I know in my heart of hearts that they're good.'

And so to the Barfly where Wolf Parade succeeded in expanding their recorded sound into something altogether more three-dimensional and urgent. Distinctly more 'rock' than CYHSY, and bolstered live by 2nd guitarist Dante Decaro (ex-Hot Hot Heat), WP played many numbers at a breathless gallop which served most tunes well except the mighty I'll believe in anything where the willing crowd were denied the chance to revel in it's declamatory swell. A tell-tale factor at any gig are the songs you've never heard before; tonight there were two, both of which had this blog wishing they'd been on the album. But there was undeniably some quality, whatever it is that bonds band with audience, that was missing. While more robust and assured than CYHSY, Wolf Parade compare directly with their fellow Pitchfork-propelled peers in being thoroughly enjoyable on record but not yet totally compelling nor trascendent live...

...and there's a lengthy full-band Q & A with dem Wolves just up over at.. why, Pitchfork...

...and they also hit the top spot for the year at soundsfamiliar...

Elsewhere, while some folks settle for a Top 10, Motel de Moka gets all Spinal Tap and pushes it to 11...

Meanwhile, some glaring errors and omissions in the Mojo, NME and Uncut lists - no Rilo Kiley, no M. Ward, no Clor anywhere to be seen while prog-revivalist piffle from from the likes of Circulus(!) and Dungen, and Kate Bush revivalist, er, Kate Bush abounds. To be remedied here in due course...

And a couple for next year's list, maybe? Rabbit fur coat by Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins is due out here on Rough Trade next month while sisters Chandra and Leigh's own debut (Southern manners) apparently won't be too far behind...
The Watson Twins
   posted by SMc at 4:23 AM |

   Monday, November 28, 2005  
Listing the lists, pt.1:

::indieblogheaven give a good old festive kicking to their Top 10 Turkeys...

::while 50quidbloke reflects on 'the 30 songs I've most enjoyed listening to this year regardless of when they came out,' and also on the mellowing effect of having a baby about the place. (Following this line, surely nothing can stop The Innocence Mission's pending new release from topping this list next year?!)

::One of the popsheep herd also goes for the individual songs approach: 'This was going to be a list of my favorite songs of the year, but it started to get too it's my favorite songs that are also condusive to spastic dancing around my apartment...'

::Indie blogger greywillfade assures us that his reasoned Top 50 contains purely 'albums that hit my gut.. not swayed by what is cool in the indie crowd, or who is listening to what, or any such nonsense'. Er, way to go, matey...

::A couple of Irish guys reflect over at foreverchanges...

::And the staff at the Rough Trade shops offer up their annual whopper, the Top 100. Hmmm, the record at no.1.. remind me again, chaps, which label would that be on? Ah yes, of course...
   posted by SMc at 12:43 PM |

   Tuesday, November 22, 2005  
Here's to shutting up...*

It must be so much easier being in a purely instrumental band, don't you think? With one bound you're freed from the pesky pitfalls of lyric-writing (cliche, pretension, triteness) and no-one's going to be able to say - a la Bright Eyes, Joanna Newsom, Clap Your Hands, etc - 'Sorry, but I just can't get past that voice'. Also, there's probably rather less chance of any 'I'm the frontman'/ego-type situations developing; it's all for one and one for all.
But there are drawbacks like possibly ending up in a state of depersonalized anonymity - but hey! that hasn't harmed Sigur Ros any. And, from a reviewing perspective, without words and voice there's no easy way in, no obvious clues to what they're getting at...unless, of course, the band makes it easy.. by not really getting at anything very much, just navel-gazing in an atmospherically rockin' kind of Saxon Shore do on The exquisite death of Saxon Shore.
In which five guys in jeans and somewhat tired Converse footwear (OK, I'm guessing here) play soaring instrumental rock using all the usual rock band instruments. There's no icy minimalism. Trendy industrial electronica? Well, a there's a gentle frosting which is always swiftly swamped by The Rock. No, for those seeking a bit of sonic envelope-pushing it's off to The Wire with you pronto for here be - dread word! - melody. And happily (from this blog's perspective at least) Saxon Shore get to the point quickly and then don't labour it. Of the ten tracks on The exquisite death of.. most come in at around four minutes, ending purposefully and with all temptation towards indulgent longeurs being most excellently resisted.
Frankly, there's not a huge amount to be said. Producer Dave Fridmann (Wheat, F.Lips, Cotton Mather,etc) imports a dash of Postal Service-y studio noise into the relentlessly tuneful emo-prog stew which is awash with rippling keyboards, clanging, crashing guitars and much general swooshing and soaring. Has 'air drumming' been invented yet? If not, reallyrather claims it here; numbers like Marked with the knowledge and With a red suit you will become a man certainly demand plenty of arm room. No, you can basically slice this highly serviceable record anywhere you like and be sure of reward. And to anyone who says, 'Look, isn't this just Vangelis with big guitars and big drums?' reallyrather stiffens the intellectual sinews and says.. shut up!

'We don't want to be rock in any way. There's no electric guitar, no jamming': The Boy Least Likely To's 'shady rock past', pseudonyms and impractical D-I-Y dreams revealed in The Times last weekend...[interview]

...and The Boy would seem to be at similar point on the career arc as the also not-very-rock Magic Numbers were at this time last year, popping up at little venues around London before stepping things up at Bush Hall next Feb (just as the Numbers did this past Feb). So, look for a headline date at somewhere like The Forum around June time and, if re-releases are eligible, a place alongside Kate Bush, Vashti Bunyan and the Arctic Monkeys on the Mercury Prize 2006 shortlist the month after...

Meanwhile, reallyrather suggests you let these folks entertain you:
Emmy the Great / My party is better than yours [mp3][site]
Blood on the Wall / Reunite on ice [mp3][site]
..and pretty much anything by..
Cars Can Be Blue - provided that is you can enjoy lyrics like:
You are my favourite fucking retard
Don't let anyone put you down
'Arf, 'arf...

   posted by SMc at 2:35 PM |

   Friday, November 11, 2005  
Christmas Presents For Nice People No.1

--tickets for a band they've never heard of but will almost certainly like, especially live... The Boy Least Likely To dates for '06:

Brixton Windmill 28/01/2006 [?]
Bar Academy Birmingham 20/02/2006
Night & Day Manchester 23/02/2006
Fibbers York 25/02/06
The Social Nottingham 26/02/2006
Bush Hall London 28/02/2006

There may be more (dates, that is...)

Comes With A Smile...goes?
   posted by SMc at 11:40 AM |

   Sunday, November 06, 2005  
Just like Christmas in the shops those year-end lists are appearing earlier and earlier. First out of the traps is monthly freebie Loud And Quiet's top 20: counting down from five it's The Rakes, Shout Out Louds, Bloc Party, The Lucksmiths and - 'the album we could not live without in 2005' - er, Coldplay. Moving swiftly along, the first of the heavyweights also jumps the gun, Uncut deciding that Sufjan Stevens just loses out to Arcade Fire which is fine except that the Fire were the big noise of last year. And, of course, the problem with showing your hand early is you can miss out on latecomers...

...stuff like...

reallyrather recently had a couple of discs sitting about the place for some while unopened. They arrived together and this blog would pick them up from time to time and enjoy them just as objects, their tantalising artwork and cellophane-sealed shininess. There was no hurry to play them since I knew instinctively that they'd be good or rather that I would like them.. which, of course, is the same thing. But knowing so completely how something's going to be, that's got to count against, surely? Well no, not necessarily. You can always hope for innovation, for Art, but at the same time You Know What You Like. Some sounds just fit, without challenge, and there's no harm in owning to that. It's only pop music, after all...

We were supposed to go on
And do much bigger things than we've done

Maybe this was in the minds of the rotating collective that is matt pond PA as they put together album no.5, Several arrows later. Well, it's one way of explaining the keenness to please, the sheer accessiblity of this latest, deeply fine, collection. If you've heard last year's Emblems it's much the same only more so. It's produced once again by new best friend Louie Lino. No idea if this guy's actually part of the band now but he's definitely become integral to their sound on record. And what is that sound exactly? Well, it's swish, tres tres swish...
UK music mag Comes With A Smile, champion of all things taciturn and, it has to be said, glum has been a long-time mpPA booster and it'll be interesting to see how they cope with the radio-readiness which abounds on Several arrows later. Heck, some of these tracks on here can only be described as fast. The fizzing vigour of the likes of From debris, Emblems and The moviegoer is kicked along by popeye drumming, some processed with clicktrack precision (to occasionally rather bullying effect). The title track is another of these and contains the line:

You should not want to sound like they do
You should want to sound like you

To this blog's ears, in these pell-mell freebooting moments they sound a bit like.. Ash?.. only cleaner, more chimey, older. It's little wonder long-time mpPA cellist in residence Eve Miller has since made her excuses and slipped out the door. But fear not, the strings are hanging on in there and all the hallmark lush midtempo crispness and superneat arrangements are also present in spades. And like Emblems the pleasure's solid pretty much from start to finish.
Opener Halloween immediately feels like an extension of the last record, the title signifying the seasonal preoccupation switching from summer to autumn (hammered home by the lovely artwork). It is safe is another gorgeous archetypal mpPA song and the one which offers most space for those strings (inc. Margaret White on violin, last seen by rr assisting Kendall Meade aka Mascott at Bush Hall last year). And the key to everything Matt's vocal, singing his words like writing in chalk on the ground, just before the rain comes. For all the claims made for the likes of The Go-betweens, the Pernice Bros, Josh Rouse etc, in the realms of mild-mannered, reflective, intelligent jangle this blog votes matt pond PA every time.
'That the group is able to come up with an album as musically and emotionally satisfying as Several Arrows Later is like a dream come true,' says Allmusic. [Buy Several Arrows Later] Oh, and purely in the interests of balance, here from last Friday is Pitchfork's ritual mpPA flaying...

Fresh from their oh-so-controversial UK jaunt supporting James Blunt, a spiffing, superconfident little headline show last week at the Water Rats from The Boy Least Likely To. Shoehorning their new-found sense of projection into London's best little backroom venue, Jof, Pete and the gang bashed through every song they've got inside 45 minutes. Yes, there were bubbles, yes there were fairy cakes and yes jolliness abounded. They've made a video - an anti-video, really - for people who watch TV and you can see it over here...

Oh yes, that other's this (more anon..probably)...
   posted by SMc at 6:09 PM |