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   Monday, April 24, 2006  
Personally, I blame Angela from the Magic Numbers. She was hardly the first, of course, but ever since that shaggy quartet's deceptively stealthy assault on Mount Pop throughout last year it seems that no-one can set off from base camp these days unless they're packing a blasted melodica. This blog recently saw five bands inside a week all of whom at some point whipped one out. This instrument's charmless drone is the new badge of cutesy indie-pop cred and, frankly, it's got to stop.
There may be a touch of Linda McCartney Syndrome going on here since its always The Girl in the band who - if you will - does the blowing. The Boy Least Likely To's show at King's College, London was the latest incidence and actually Linda McCartney regularly comes to mind when watching their frontline keyboard player/vocalist/cake dispenser (not the sweetly diligent Bahar who's always stuck out back). Playing in her partner's band, there's sometimes the same willowy blonde semi-detachment and a slight air of dilletantism which, hey, perhaps we'd all have if it was our latest novel that was parked in the Top50 bestsellers list having shipped over 100,000 copies. She's known in the band as 'Amanda' but (as her book itself laments) the art of keeping secrets is all but lost.
Shrugging off their early musicbiz scepticism and instinctive reluctance to play the game, The Boy are now a hard-gigging troupe busily racking up those road and air miles here and in the US. And it shows. Twinkly stomp is their thing with an ever more fervent emphasis on the stomp; crackers like I see spiders and Be gentle with me have never sounded so strong. The set remains much the same - all the album plus a couple of great b-sides - but this is OK since every uptempo song is a joy, and that's most of them. With no stand-out voice or personality its all for one and one for all. At times all seven are singing at once but such harmonies as there are aren't terribly nuanced and this blog can't help thinking a little work in this dept. would reap disproportionately big dividends. Catch them for free at HMV Oxford St this Wednesday 6pm or else see/hear their recent KCRW session, stompiness necessarily muted but still quite ace...

...and they're also among the early committers to the latest addition to the UK festival scene, The End of the Road festival at Larmer Tree Gardens on the Dorset/Wilts border 15-17 Sept: 'We are avoiding sponsorships in order to keep our creative freedom, and in order to avoid littering the beautiful venue with commercial banners. Therefore, we are so grateful to all bands who come for the fun of it and who play for a smaller fee than they are used to...'

There was a melodica double-header down at the RoTa freebie in the Notting Hill Arts Club's concrete bunker on a cold 'n' wet Saturday afternoon. First sinner was Jude Rogers, who has become The Girl in The Band Michaelmas, rounding out their melodically efficient guitar pop sound with organ and bv's. Nice enough but a bit too straight really, plastic toy or no plastic toy. It was a rare outing for C-86 veteran Amelia Fletcher's latest incarnation Tender Trap that was mostly responsible for filling the room. More blocky unambitious bedroom jangle which peaked with their non-hit Oh Katrina. The spirit of the committed hobbyist has long hovered over this scene (and it remains A Scene complete with A Look - think Thora Birch in Ghost World) and priorities were laid bare when drummer Claudia, on loan from The Magnetic Fields, blurted out that they had to end their set in order 'to feed their kids and get to the theatre.' Excellento...
[tender trap]

To the Luminaire two night earlier for this blog's new band of the moment My Sad Captains. Being The Girl in the Band, Cathy Lucas, she of the drowsy visage and uncompromising fringe, naturally gets melodica detail though in a daring break with protocol guitarist Nick also gets a go. Resembling a refugee from some anthem-wielding Scando-rock outfit like Kent, Nick's weapon of choice, a shiny blue Les Paul, is also a bit out of indie kilter. And as for Jack's bass, well...tho' thinking about it, 'cool bass guitar' could well be an oxymoron. Band leader Ed, however, truly understands, the ineffable rightness of his red Telecaster being but the most visible indication. Less superficially and more importantly, there's the songs. Not that it'll mean much to anybody just yet but they came and went something like this:

Ghost song
Bad decisions
Hide and seek
All hat and no plans
Against the grain
Run run run (?)
'a new one'
Building blocks
Change of scenery
+ one more

The loping loveliness of Ghost song is an early demonstration of the band's canny grasp of song dynamics, vocal assists from Cathy bringing the tune to a heady swell. She's also a game brass section replacement in the out-and-out indie-pop delight that is Bad decisions. Some thrilling guitar rushes (more, please) elevate All hat and no plans which already has the feel of a minor classic while Building blocks, another set peak, has some of the tumble and spark of the Stone Roses' Waterfall. Set against stuff like this songs such as the perfectly likeable Against the grain sound almost pedestrian.
Naturally enough they're still putting it together live and an air of self-consciousness hovers (tho' not in the crowd where your correspondent must report outbreaks of what can only be called dancin'). So then, My Sad Captains: not earth-shattering or particularly original-sounding (yet), merely hideously enjoyable. Watch this MySpace...

From music you can't yet buy to music you can and, if you know what's good for you, jolly well should. Songs from Cannibal sea, latest release from The Essex Green, dominated the band's recent one-off show at 93 Feet East but their relative unfamiliarity did little to dim the pleasure rippling out across the surprisingly well-filled room.
Still '60s-drenched but strangely 'now', Chris, Sasha, Jeff and co. introduced us to the on-the-money pop of This isn't farmlife, Don't know why (you stay) and Penny & Jack, the album's opening 1-2-3 and lightly rolling beauties like Rue de Lis and Sin City from the band's bucolic flipside. Coming on at times like a more ship-shape, less shaggy Mendoza Line, covers of Canned Heat's Going up the country and Grin's Everbody's missing the sun slotted right in. Can't remember if they gave us the driving pop shimmer of Cardinal points or the jangly, sub-anthemic sway of The pride but Sasha definitely had her melodica moment somewhere along the line. This blog has always thought albums like Cannibal sea should come with a free tambourine. If, like reallyrather, you always keep yours close at hand prepare to wield it now...

Spotted at the show, James William Hindle - hardly surprising since various Essex Greeners (or the extended family thereof) have contributed to his last two grievously overlooked releases [see rr 9 June 05 and 14 Sept 03]. A limited edition mini-album of stripped-down bedroom acoustica called Joshong has also just emerged on Early Winter Recordings...

And remember, folks: End this melodica madness NOW!
   posted by SMc at 12:45 PM |

   Sunday, April 09, 2006  
Looking back to February 2004 a couple of low-key, unassuming homemade records found their way into this blog's orbit and never really left it. Two years on and their follow-ups land on the mat almost simultaneously. Such piffling synchronicity aside, Chad King and The Weepies - for tis they - shared a knack for crafting beautifully understated country-folk-pop and reallyrather is more than pleased to report they've been and gone and done it again. Though having been out for a few weeks neither of these releases seem to have received anywhere nera the attention they deserve. More particularly, they certainly deserve yours...

Surely this has been done before? All eleven song titles on Chad King's Well, hell are girls names - Heather, Sandy, Linda, etc - who may or may not be actual people in King's life. Whatever, this is happily no embarrassing personal score-settling exercise; sourness is one characteristic this very consistent collection of tunes doesn't share. What they do share is an uncomplicated recorded sound (ever-so-slighly more finished than the bedroom demo quality of debut Love your engine) and arrangements typified by solid acoustic strummin given a lapsteel shine.
So who's particularly worth meeting? This blog's vote has to go to Estelle right at the end there. This is closest in feel to the debut, a casual-sounding ensemble slice of deep, low-slung country-soul with a loosely sketched-in female vocal harmony nicely offsetting King's burnt umber lead. Slightly undercooked but still gorgeous. Altogether more peppy and optimistic is Heather complete with some Dick Dale-lite geetar and even a bit of whistling - shame that one didn't work out, Chad.
Fans of the now sadly defunct Gingersol in their mellower moments will find a ready home here. Without being obviously derivative Well, hell carries echoes of The Byrds and strains of distinctly English '60s pop and folk. But you're never too far from another seductive lapsteel moment as in Maggie which also sees a viola player take up the baton and run with it a while. But not for long since The Song is always the thing here...
[chad king][keep recordings] it most definitely is with The Weepies who have signed to mini-major Nettwerk for the release of Say I am You. The first fruits of singer-songwriters Steve Tannen and Deb Talan’s coming together was the enduringly effervescent self-release Happiness [hear/buy][see rrFeb 1 04]. The crisp lightness and sureness of touch of it’s best moments raised great hopes for their next move and yet as terrifically enjoyable as SIAY is there’s a verve and freshness of style about Happiness that isn’t bettered or particularly developed here.
Oddly, for all this is a Weepies project – all the songs are co-credits – there’s still something of a his ‘n’ hers feel about the set. Several songs would sit easily on a Deb solo release and anyone bemoaning her current project/distraction has little reason to feel deprived. The solid, full-sounding opener Take it from me is one such as is the sweetly spare perfection of the following Gotta have you to which Steve adds some fine b/v shadings.
And while its Talan’s voice that is this duo’s most distinctive feature it’s Tannen who takes the lead on two of the most immediately attractive numbers. Some brushed drumming boots Riga girls along nicely while World spins madly on is another stellar example of its type: clean, light, tactile strumming and a composition expertly constructed and executed, particularly the final few bars, the couple's hand-in-hand sense paying dividends with some affectingly subtle vocal refrains.
This is easy listening in its very best sense. Songs like Painting by Chagall and Nobody know me at all positively ooze pleasantness but their melodic and lyrical distinctions, their sheer deftness render any sniffiness redundant. The Weepies do their colouring-in in pastels, smudging and rubbing, but beneath lie some fine spare lines draughted by the sharpest pencils in the box…
[The Weepies]

To the big back room at the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town last week where reallyrather surveyed the alarming emptiness as a band called The Silent Parade threw down their dully proficient Muse-meets-Stereophonics stylings for next to nobody. Could this blog's antennae be going a bit wonky I wondered as the men in black (yep, you guessed) packed away their gear. Happily, no! As if by magic a properly buzzing little crowd appeared from nowhere (well, ok, the front bar) to give a deservingly enthusiastic reception to My Sad Captains and their catchy, crap-free indie-guitar pop thingy. As noted before, there's something of The Tyde about this young London five-piece - listen to songs like All hat and no plans or Ghost song alongside Separate cars [hear] from The Tyde's imminent Rough Trade release, Three's Co. But most of all Ed & co. bring to mind the calmer finer moments of NZ also-rans Garageland - remember Beelines to heaven? You are advised to make a beeline for The Luminaire this Thursday for My Sad Captains first headlining show...
   posted by SMc at 4:29 AM |