Saturday, March 29, 2008

More Broken Records

Just getting one in before the end of the week. I've been sick as a dog (just how sick do dogs get anyway?) and haven't been able to get much up here, but it would be wrong to let the week pass without another Broken Records post. Mind you, the main track I'm posting has been on my computer since last October, so hardly hot off the press and another week would have made little difference.

But then again, this week was the week of the first Toad Session, lovingly put together by Matthew Song By Toad - the first band of course was Broken Records, in for an acoustic session. And a very fine thing it is too. If you've not heard it, get ye over there now, listen, watch, download, do what you need to do to hear the band formerly known as the best unsigned band in Britain.

Formerly, I say, because they have a deal - at least for one single - with XL offshoot Young Turks. And that single is the glorious If The News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It, which will be known and loved by anyone who's bought the Broken Records 4-track website EP (or downloaded if from a blog you cheeky buggers). This is the same track that I half-heartedly caught as the band played on Marc Riley's BBC 6Music show last autumn. By then I had heard Matthew rave about them, so I knew I should press record on my digital radio, but at that time I hadn't taken Matthew's praise seriously enough to either record the whole session, or listen to them much at all until early January this year. Oh well, more fool me. I'll pay more attention to his ramblings in future.

Download: Broken Records - If The News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It (live on BBC 6Music)

And speaking of the single, here's the b-side, also very good. This one won't be up here for long though. Just buy the single!

Download: Broken Records - Lessons Never Learnt

Pre-order the delicious If The News... 7 inch from Rough Trade. You can still buy the EP from the band's myspace.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Colin Meloy Sings Live

A few years ago, Gus Van Sant re-made Psycho exactly, in a frame-by-frame replication of Hitchcock’s original. This meant that the film was both very good and utterly pointless at the same time. I mention this, because for some reason it was the image that sprang to mind when I first listened to the new (actually debut full-length solo) album from The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy. It’s not a great allusion, to be honest, and it doesn’t really hold up because the songs that Meloy is playing aren’t direct copies of his band’s songs, they’re acoustic versions. But at the same time I think there’s only really one market for Colin Meloy Sings Live, and it’s dedicated Decemberists fans. I enjoyed listening to this album, but as a casual listener, I don’t think it would be one that I’d buy. I’m not sure I see the point.

That said, the stripped down nature of the album shows off Meloy’s fine songwriting in a more pronounced way, and just to show it’s live and he can do what he likes, he slips in elements of other people’s songs (such as Ask by the Smiths) to augment his own, which works quite well. For the fans, there are some exclusives – notably unreleased song Wonder, and props to Colin for not just playing his best songs – he also plays what’s by his admission the worst song he ever wrote – a trite little ditty called Dracula’s Daughter. Less props though for spoiling the set closer (and my favourite Decemberists song) Bandit Queen by a bad attempt at whistling and then apologising for it. Some people may find that charming, for me it’s just annoying.

All in then, a bit of a curiosity. One that true fans will go nuts for, and others like myself will stand idly by, able to enjoy it, but like outsiders at a convention, not really able to enter into the spirit of things.

Download: Colin Meloy – Wonder
Download: Colin Meloy – The Engine Driver

Colin Meloy Sings Live is out on 7 April. You can pre-order it from Rough Trade.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Singles Going Steady 20: Catatonia

It seems that the nature of Cerys Matthews’ public profile comes in cycles. Bleed, the only Catatonia CD single in my collection, dates from 1996 when the band were very much on the up. This was when Cerys was appearing in photos (like the one on the back of the sleeve) wearing a distinctly unsexy cagoule and jeans. Though they weren’t exactly edgy, Catatonia still had the credibility that comes from newness. This was before Matthews turned into a swaggering, vodka swilling pantomime figure, gracing the tabloids as much as the music press, and her subsequent ‘exhaustion’ surely speeded the band’s demise in 2001.

Two years later she was back, and transformed. No longer a Met Bar casualty, she was newly married with a bun in the oven, living in the Tennessee backwoods. Her debut solo album Cockahoop saw her making music in keeping with her new environment, and it was really rather good. So once again a credible artist. Another two years on, another solo album, but not a huge success, and it was only a matter of time before the tabloid Cerys Matthews rolled round again, this time taking part in bargain basement reality TV show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here last year. The stories were not about her drinking though, more about her on-screen relationship with some dude whose name I’ve forgotten. Anyway, pantomime figure again. Who knows where she’ll go from here.

Enjoy the tune – it’s actually one of Catatonia’s best. And how did they manage to release a single that got into the charts with the word ‘bullshit’ in it? Wouldn’t happen now, for sure.

Download: Catatonia – Bleed

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Destroyer – Trouble in Dreams

I have to admit that before listening to this album, I’d never really heard much of Destroyer. But then again, I’m a busy guy and I don’t even have time to keep up with all the New Pornographers-related projects, far less all the good new stuff knocking about out there. I know that Dan Bejar has a hefty back catalogue, but I’m starting fresh with his latest Destroyer album, and I’m glad to say really rather like it.

I can’t quite place what it is that I like about Trouble in Dreams though, because although Bejar’s guitar and keyboard arrangements are quite straightforward, there’s nothing immediate or particularly catchy about the songs on this album. Having listened a few times, I can’t hum any of the tunes yet, but maybe that’s a good thing. Often the most immediate records are the ones that you grow tired of most easily. I’m guessing that this is an album that will slowly work its way into my head and over time become a bit of a favourite. There’s certainly a lot to appreciate – woozy, slightly proggy tendencies that are never overdone, very pleasing guitar riffs, a big expansive sound that almost reaches ‘epic’ and then stops before it becomes overblown, Bejar’s interesting delivery which more than compensates what’s lacking in the vocal department (at times it’s like he’s aping Dylan). There are faint echoes of many bands I like here including Mercury Rev, The National and even REM, but the sound is distinctive enough to make it one that I’m sure to return to regulalry. The only thing that worries me now is the potential need to tap into that intimidating discography. Where to start?

Download: Destroyer – Foam Hands
Download: Destroyer – Rivers

Buy Trouble in Dreams from Rough Trade or download from emusic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New Basia Bulat

This one almost passed me by. Or rather I sort of ignored the Rough Trade email of a few weeks back until today. I'm not sure why I did, because Oh My Darling by Basia Bulat was one of my favourite albums of last year. Now she's got some new songs out as part of a download-only single. They're funny beasts really, are download singles. If they're not pressed up on 7 inch or 12 inch vinyl (or maybe at a push, on CD) I can't really properly think of them as singles. Still, it's new Basia Bulat, so I'm not going to complain.

Main track In the Night picks up from where Basia's debut album Oh My Darling left off, all gentle strumming and that rolling drum rhythm which made songs like I Was a Daughter and The Pilgrimming Vine such top tunes. There's an expanded version of the album's opener Before I Knew, which is good but doesn't really improve on the brief, fragile beauty of the earlier version. Lastly, there's a cover of Sam Cooke's If I Could Touch the Hem of His Garment, which is lovely, but then again, it's hard to ruin a song as great as that.

I've posted the Sam Cooke cover below, but if you want another version of this and three more ace Basia Bulat songs, including a new untitled song, head over to Daytrotter and download her recent session.

Download: Basia Bulat - If I Could Touch the Hem of His Garment

Buy Oh My Darling at Rough Trade, and the rest of the download single at emusic.

Monday, March 17, 2008

September Gurls

Last night whilst doing the washing-up I heard a beautiful song on the radio. Lovely timeless guitar pop, with a soaring melody, it was. It felt like years since I last heard it, yet it was as familiar as an old friend. That’s mainly because I’ve spent a lot of time, years ago, listening to it and the album it comes from.

The song is September Gurls by Big Star, and the album is Radio City. This album is a bit of a special one for me, since the combo of Radio City and Big Star's debut #1 Record was the first ever CD I bought, back in 1992. At that time, the Big Star revival was in full swing, having been given an extra boost the previous autumn when Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque album was released to mass acclaim, and no little accusation in some quarters of heavy borrowing from Big Star – in particular the TFC song December was said to be a dead ringer for September Gurls.

The response to this from me (and no doubt a good few others) was to ask “Big who?” and immediately go to check them out. Sure enough, there is a fair degree of musical kinship between the Fannies and Big Star, which was pretty fine by me. I subsequently listened to #1 Record and Radio City an awful lot, but that was mostly over 10 years ago now, and listening again through them this morning brought it all back. These are songs which for me will be forever Glasgow. A particular time and place. The mid-90s. Good times. Memories which added to the fact that these are very, very good albums make quite a potent mix. I’ll always go back to these with pleasure, and no tune more so than September Gurls.

Download: Big Star – September Gurls

Buy Big Star albums. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Big Star are actually playing a gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 28 August. I’m almost intrigued enough to go.

Times New Viking

In my experience, people are usually either into music or hi-fi, not both. Of course, I’m generalising massively, but I think it’s a fairly accurate generalisation. Those I have known with top of the range equipment often have a relative lack of music to play on their gear, or just have a general lack of excitement about music – their pleasure is derived more from getting that perfect sound coming out of the speakers. On the other hand, the people I know who really love their music (and there are more of them, I’m pleased to say) are too busy spending money on records, CDs and gig tickets to have much left for expensive hi-fi systems. I actually have some decent hi-fi equipment (good quality Cambridge Audio amp and CD player, decent turntable and great old Wharfedale speakers) but I listen to much more music on the crappy CD player in the kitchen, and on my iPod or computers than I do in my lounge where the hi-fi sits.

All of this is by way of a rambling into to Times New Viking, mainly because I wonder what my hi-fi loving acquaintances would make of this Ohio band. They would hate the music no doubt, because no amount of Bang and Olufsen gear would make TNV sound crisp. Their third album Rip it Off is one of the roughest I’ve ever heard, certainly of any released on a big-ish label (in this case, Matador) and the production values on this are virtually nil. The sound is super-abrasive and at times sounds like it might as well be coming out of a mobile phone. It’s been cheaply recorded, it’s all treble, sometimes you can barely even hear the drums properly and to be honest, listening to the whole album all the way through is a bit of a test on the old ears.

All of this might make you think that I hate Rip it Off, but taken in small, punchy doses, it’s hard to beat. I can see why Matador has decided to release it unadulterated and without any re-recording. It’s 100% lo-fi punky energy, like a more hyperactive Pavement or Guided by Voices recorded in a bath inside a garden shed, and in short-sharp blasts (average track length is about 2 minutes) it blows most other stuff around just now clean out the water. My Head is simply one of the best pop songs I’ve heard all year. From the urgency of these tracks, I can imagine that they’re amazing live too – and at least then (unless it’s a proper dodgy indie hole), you’ll get to hear them more clearly.

Download: Times New Viking – My Head
Download: Times New Viking – Faces on Fire

Rip it Off is out in the UK on 28 April, though you can buy advance copies now from Rough Trade. TNV are over here in May. The London dates are:

14 May – CafĂ© Oto* (UTR gig with Jay Reatard)
15 May – Old Blue Last
21 May – Corsica Studios

*a new venue in Dalston, which I’m keen to see.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Return of the King

After King Creosote’s set at the End of the Road Festival last year, Matthew Song By Toad and I had a bit of a debate about the merits of Kenny Anderson’s new direction. We had just witnessed a fairly loud (by KC’s normal standards) show, which mainly consisted of tracks from latest album Bombshell, a record which sees him rocking out like never before, and given a pop sheen seemingly miles from his Fence Collective roots.

I wasn’t taken by the new stuff – I preferred it when the King’s gorgeous voice is unencumbered by amped up guitars and crashing drums – but Matthew rose to its defence. His line of argument was basically that rather than being forced into a more commercial direction by his major record label, this was Kenny getting the opportunity to do something that he had always wanted to do. He’d spent years and years on the lo-fi folk and indie circuits, existing on a shoestring, and now with Warners’ money he was going to use it to rock out in a way he’d always dreamed of.

Now I have some sympathy with this argument, particularly as I’m not the type who’d accuse artists of selling out by allowing their songs to be in adverts (if you’d struggled to make ends meet as a musician, who has the moral authority to tell you to say no when big business comes calling). Matthew’s point is further backed by a glance at KC’s back catalogue. Anderson has been nothing if not prolific, recording as many as 24 albums over the years – CDRs and more minor Fence collections, in addition to his ‘official’ releases. A few of these albums were re-released by Fence Records last year, and some of these contain songs that can also be found on Kenny’s major label albums, KC Rules OK and Bombshell. So he’s clearly been using the opportunity to rework and beef up some of his older songs.

So I’m left unsure of it all really. I actually quite like Bombshell, all things considered. I’m still not too keen on the production, but Kenny’s voice and the quality of his songwriting will always win over for me. The things that I don’t like about the album are more to do with how it’s arranged rather than the songs themselves. His new single Admiral is a case in point. It’s a beautiful song and probably the best on the record, but its delicate loveliness is almost spoiled by an instrumental bridge which sounds like the sort of thing you’d hear in a Royal Mile tourist shop – pure Celtic cheese. Thankfully the song is just too good to be ruined by that minor blip.

Anyway, what’s the point of me going on about all this? I think I’ve lost the thread somewhere, but I guess the main reason is to do with these tracks I’m posting. I’ve just dug out some songs from a session KC did for Marc Riley on BBC6Music back in October last year. It’s just Kenny and a couple of his band-mates, all acoustic and nary a power chord in sight. See what you think – are the songs better when they’re not amped up? I think they are. A little at least. Oh, and I’ve also posted a couple of songs from Psalm Clerk, both of which surfaced later – one on Bombshell and one on KC Rules OK. Ditto the above.

Download: King Creosote – You’ve No Clue Do You (live on BBC6Music)
Download: King Creosote – Leslie (live on BBC6Music)
Download: King Creosote – Home in a Sentence (live on BBC6Music)

Download: King Creosote – Spystick
Download: King Creosote – Not One Bit Ashamed

Buy KC stuff from Fence Records. Admiral is out this week - buy from Rough Trade.

John & Jehn

Here’s something new that came my way a couple of days ago, and since French bands seem to be quite the thing at the moment, I thought I’d give it a whirl. John and Jehn (should that be John et Jehn?) are a French couple living in London to make their musical mark. That might be just beginning. Their debut album is out sometime soon (can’t find exactly when), and though the fact that it’s split into a ‘John’ and ‘Jehn’ side (how does that work in a non-vinyl format?) might suggest some sort of artistic division, it seems that they work together very nicely indeed thank you. They should though, because they’re more than just an artistic pairing.

The most obvious comparison might be made with The Kills, but unlike Hince and Mosshart, they’re actually a proper couple and one of them isn’t shagging Kate Moss. Plus from what I’ve heard of both John and Jehn and Midnight Boom, the French folks are easily better. They peddle a sort of lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll swagger, with pleasingly wheezing keyboards and ramshackle beats, guitar often cranked up and voices sweetly blended. In all the slight griminess of it all, they haven’t forgotten to write good tunes. What I’ve heard from their myspace is enough to make me officially intrigued. More French goodness then? Yes please.

Download: John & Jehn – 20 L 07
Download: John & Jehn – Make Your Mum Be Proud

All I know about John & Jehn I learned from this Drowned in Sound interview a couple of days ago. DiS don't mention The Kills, which is a good thing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Singles going steady 19: Calexico

Calexico are one of my favourite bands, and one that I’ll usually go to see every time they’re in London simply because they’re a fantastic live band who always put on a great show. I know I was a bit lukewarm about the last time I saw them, when they were outclassed by Beirut in support, but that won’t stop me going to see them again. Their gig at the Barbican with their Tucson buddies Mariachi Luz de Luna back in 2002 was one of the best I’ve ever been to. They must have known it was going to be special too, since the performance was filmed for their live World Drifts In DVD.

Joey Burns, John Convertino and co. are also pretty prolific. In addition to their five ‘official’ albums, they’ve recorded a heap of other stuff – EPs, tour albums etc – which have only been available at gigs or through their website. And coming to the point of this post, they’ve also done some cracking one-off singles, which include the two CD singles in my collection. They are the live favourite and oft-time encore Crystal Frontier, and their ace cover of Love’s Alone Again Or. Two brilliant songs, particularly Crystal Frontier which fairly blew me away the first time I saw Calexico at the now defunct Ocean venue in Hackney back in 2001. There are two versions of the song on the CD single – the acoustic version, which I assume they never play live, and the ‘widescreen’ version, which is as apt a title as any because Calexico’s music is just so damn cinematic, evoking Morricone, cowboys and the dust of their desert home town. Ironically, the only major use of their music in a film that I can find is Guero Canelo in the very much urban setting of LA in Michael Mann’s Collateral.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Here are these two songs, plus a couple of decent b-sides from the singles.

Download: Calexico – Crystal Frontier
Download: Calexico – Alone Again Or
Download: Calexico – Convict Pool
Download: Calexico – Chanel #5

Buy Calexico music from their website.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Paper Planes

With all this talk of MIA yesterday, it seems appropriate to revisit her, particularly since Paper Planes, the finest track off Kala has just been released as a single on tasty 12 inch, with more dodgy artwork. It’s possibly the best thing Maya Arulpragasam has ever done, what with its gunshots, cash registers, Clash sample and killer tune. This time it comes backed with the obligatory range of remixes, some of which are plain lazy with just a rap stuck on top, but others are better, none more so than James Murphy’s reworking. Honestly, everything this guy touches at the moment turns to pure gold. And this remix is no exception.

Buy Paper Planes from Rough Trade.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


People have been getting excited about Santogold (Santi White to her mum) for a few months now. Although she made it into that BBC top 10 for 2008, she might not have achieved Vampire Weekend–big coverage yet, but surely that’s only a matter of time. Whether it’s Mark Ronson vocal slots, MIA supports, or hanging out with hotshot beatmeisters like Switch, Sinden and Spank Rock’s Alex ‘Armani XXXChange’ Epton, she’s got friends in all the right places.

The two songs of hers most widely available right now show her off as both sounding a wee bit like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs (LES Artistes) and a whole lot like MIA (Creator). She’s an intriguing prospect for sure. I can’t wait to hear more.

Download: Santogold – LES Artistes (XXXChange remix)
Stream: Santogold – Creator

Marc Riley and the Creepers

Last week Xfm DJ John Kennedy wrote into Time Out to complain about their music critics’ snide remarks about the radio station, and defending his own championing of new music. He was right – his Xposure show is a place where you can hear good new music and he is tireless in championing it, but his programme is a lone island in a sea of bland corporate indie rock, which has seen the station fall from an exciting and brash new kid on the block in 1997 to a deadweight for which new life seems impossible.

Now I fear that BBC 6Music may be going the same way, with even less excuse given that they’re a publicly-funded radio station. Recent changes to the station have elicited a steady stream of grumblings across the internets, which were brought to an angry head at the end of last year with the replacement of Gideon Coe with lank-haired buffoon George Lamb on the mid-morning show. Here perfectly encapsulated was an example of what was going wrong with 6Music – an obsession with minor celebrity, and a preference (in Lamb’s case at least) for gossip, stories about kebabs and general studio goonery over actually playing any music. The station’s motto of ‘closer to the music that matters’ looks sorely in need of revision, as the station controller steers the ship towards copying, rather than being an alternative to other BBC music stations (which was surely the point in starting 6Music in the first place). I could go on and on here, but there’s no need – the rottenness in the state of 6Music is excellently discussed by Ro Cemm in his recent piece on The Line of Best Fit.

Anyway, all this should create despair, but I’m not ready to give up 6Music completely yet. There are still a few shows well worth listening out for, none more so than Marc Riley’s Brain Surgery on Wednesday to Friday evenings. It’s become my favourite radio programme and the soundtrack to my early evening, dinner and sometimes even baby baths. Riley is exactly the sort of person who 6Music should be employing – he has a clear passion for music, is continually excited about new stuff, has an irreverent and laid-back presenting style, and offers a (usually decent) live band on every show. What’s not to like?

From way back in the days of Mark and Lard, I knew that Riley was a former member of The Fall, kicked out by Mark E Smith in 1982, but it was only recently that I found out that there was more to his musical career than bass-slapper to Salford’s musical dictator-in-chief. A few weeks ago, Tom Robinson (who covers the same evening slot as Marc on Mondays and Tuesdays) played a Peel Session from a certain Marc Riley and the Creepers from 1984. I managed to record one of these songs, which is posted for your edification below. Musically, there’s a clear line of continuation from The Fall, but is slightly less abrasive. Good stuff all in, and a useful starting point for finding out more. I even found an old website dedicated to the Creepers, so there’s obviously a fan base out there. Are any of these recordings still available? I’d like to know.

Download: Marc Riley and the Creepers – Cure by Choice

I also found this Youtube clip of Marc and the Creepers. See how young he looks!

Friday, March 07, 2008

A little sort of Mae Shi extra

A couple of weeks ago I raved about the new album by LA pop-punks The Mae Shi and now here’s a couple related projects I've come across lately.

First up Gowns, a band whose core is made up of Ezra Buchla, who used to be in The Mae Shi, and Erika Anderson formerly of Amps for Christ. But don’t expect any line of continuation between Ezra’s former band and his new one, the two are miles apart. Where the ‘Shi show off energy, snappy synth action, cheery guitar riffs and mass singing, Gowns are about the polar opposite – the songs are slow, stripped down and often reject conventional structures and tunes for something more textured. Though they both share a certain intensity and religion-referencing lyrics. At least that's my impression from the songs streaming at Gowns' myspace. It's weird enough on the right side of good to make me interested enough to want to hear more and it could be worth checking out their album Red State, released in this country on the ever-excellent Upset! The Rhythm record label. Maybe someone can encourage me further.

Download: Gowns – White Like Heaven
Download: Gowns – Feathers

Secondly there’s Brad Breeck, who is still in The Mae Shi, but is doing a sideline as the ‘composer’ for a film called One too Many Mornings, currently being produced on a shoestring in LA. It’s described as a comedy revolving round a guy called Fischer who looks after a church so he can sleep there, and his friends who show up at the church. Sounds like there may be potential there, but they’re still looking for money to finish it, so a website has been set up with info and links for donations etc. It could be a good cause. Breeck has already written a sort of theme for the film, or at least a song with the same title. This is closer to The Mae Shi of course, but with all the electronics and other noise stripped away. Enjoy.

Download: Brad Breeck – One Too Many Mornings

A good start

Not so much a good start actually - how about a brilliant start!

A couple of days ago, End of the Road Festival announced its second lot of bands for this year's bash on 12-14 September. This was in addition to the first lot of bands announced a couple of weeks ago, which were:

Mercury Rev, Two Gallants, Micah P Hinson, Mountain Goats, Sun Kil Moon / Mark Kozelek, Jeffrey Lewis, Jason Molina, A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Bob Log III, The Wave Pictures, Woodpigeon, Friska Viljor.

If you think that's good, how about this week's lot:

Low, Dirty Three, British Sea Power, American Music Club, Billy Childish, Akron/Family, Kimya Dawson, Darren Hayman (Darren and Jack Play Hefner Songs), FM Belfast, Laura Marling, Devon Sproule, Angelo Spencer, The Pyramids and Kelley Stoltz.

Now, as expected, I don't know all these artists, but there are enough Daily Growl favourites there to make me sure that it's going to be the best festival of the year again. Not that I wasn't going to go before I heard the line-up though - I've had a good enough time there on previous years to want to go back every time. In fact, I suspect the EOTR organisers have been looking at my record collection. Or at least my

Anyway, given the first two names in the latest batch, I'm hoping for an In The Fishtank-style collaboration. They need to play this track at least. It's too beautiful not to.

Download: Low & Dirty Three - I Hear... Goodnight

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Cave Singers @ Metro Club, 26 February 2008

Last Tuesday night at the end of Oxford Street was an evening of contrasts. 2000 of The Kids were packing into the Astoria to see perplexingly over-rated Young Knives. Then about 50 metres or so round the corner and downstairs about 30 people had turned up to watch The Cave Singers at their first London headline gig.

I’m a bit of a fan of the Seattle band's debut album Invitation Songs so I had fairly high expectations of how it would translate into a live experience. I wasn’t to be disappointed. Onstage, The Cave Singers specialise in a delightfully stripped down American folk-rock, which is a bit more folk than rock. Although they employ a pleasing array of different instruments and percussion, theirs is a minimalist approach, a sort of less-is-more which pays off splendidly. Frontman Pete Quirk’s vocals have the sort of nasal quality that may be off-putting to some, but for me, they’re unique and engaging.

They played most of Invitation Songs and a few others, ending the main set with the brilliant double-whammy of the synth-led Helen and the single Dancing on Our Graves, which with its Johnny Cash vibe and furiously scrubbed washboard percussion ended on a particular high. There was an encore of course, but the small size of the venue and the crowd meant that the band didn’t bother leaving the stage. Still, a couple more Cave Singers songs are always welcome.

In the end then, a fine show. But as my friend and I left we wondered where a band like The Cave Singers can go. Would they ever play venues larger than this to bigger crowds? Theirs is a classic sound, almost timeless music, but it seems sadly unlikely that they’ll win over the sort of people who flock to NME Awards shows. The only thing I can say is I hope so. Other similar bands have made that sort of crossover, and the Cave Singers certainly deserve to as well.

Download: The Cave Singers – Belmar
Download: The Cave Singers – After the First Baptism

The album Invitation Songs is out now. You should get it. The tracks above are b-sides which may or may not have featured in last week’s gig. I can’t remember.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Big love going out to Brainlove

Sometimes great new music can just hit you from out of nowhere. Yesterday afternoon, a message popped into my inbox from John Brainlove, head honcho of the excellent Brainlove Records with info on the label’s new release – a split 7 inch featuring Friends of the Bride and Modernaire.

Friends of the Bride I was familiar with, and have always enjoyed their big-band swing meets 60s beat sound with a definite modern twist. If you're not acquainted with Bobby Grindrod and co, maybe think a bit like Richard Hawley but with more swagger, energy and better pop tunes. They don't really seem to do ballads from what I've heard. The two tracks on the seven inch are further fine examples of why it’s not just about the dapper looks and period detail with these guys - they can knock out more than a few decent retro songs as well.

But it was Modernaire who really knocked me sideways, for a moment at least. There’s nothing particularly special or innovative in what they’re doing – it’s basically just boy-girl electro-pop – but it just comes together so well. Like Goldfrapp with a lighter touch. Good though Modernaire are generally, for me it's all about one particular tune. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Taste is going to be one of the best pop tunes of the year. Watch out for this Manchester band. They’re another group with style and swagger, but decent tunes to match.

I’m not going to post any of the tracks from the single, as you should go and buy the 7 inch, or at least download from emusic (the cheap option) when the record’s released on 17 March. You can listen to the tracks from the single on the respective myspace sites, and in the meantime here are a couple of tracks by each band to whet your appetite.

Download: Friends of the Bride – End of Loneliness
Download: Friends of the Bride – Moments
Download: Modernaire – Scalpel
Download: Modernaire – Rain

Buy the 7 inch from Brainlove Records. There are more Modernaire recordings available to buy through their myspace.

The Early Years revisited

With all this talk about Krautrock, it seems appropriate to revisit one of the most under-rated bands of the last couple of years - The Early Years. Their self-titled debut album from 2006 was criminally ignored by almost everyone (myself included) when it came to the end-of-year best ofs. The album was good, but that's not my concern here. It's actually one of the band's lesser-known tunes, tucked away on a b-side, but in my opinion their finest hour. This is where they show off their true Krautrock credentials.

More than that, the track I Heard Voices, is right up there with the greats. The Early Years are a band who know how to use their effects pedals, and they’ve manipulated their sound to perfection on this tune. The drumming is nothing short of superb and it’s this rhythmic thread that holds everything together so well. At almost 12 minutes long it may appear daunting, but never once does it outstay its welcome. In fact, given the slow measured build-up through this whole time, when they're about to end it, they’ve got themselves into such a fantastic groove that you just don’t want it to stop. I could listen to it for another 12 minutes at least.

Download: The Early Years – I Heard Voices

Here’s hoping for more Early Years goodness in 2008.