Thursday, January 31, 2008

Findo Gask

What makes a new band stand out? In an increasingly difficult marketplace, it must be hard, because often our decisions are made before we even listen to bands. A bad name, for instance can put people right off. I know it can put me off. I’ve no plans to listen to Royworld for instance, unless someone can convince me they’re totally ace. On the other hand I have overcome some prejudices lately to appreciate songs by Broadcast 2000, Glasvegas and Antarctica Takes It!.

A name can be crucial, particularly when these are often just glimpsed on pieces of paper or computer screens. Every week I scan the new release list from Rough Trade to see what’s out. Obviously there are a lot of bands on there I’ve never heard of, and I just don’t have the time to click on all the links to read the blurbs (most of which have been penned by PRs and not the shop staff it seems). The other week however, I was struck by one band’s name – Findo Gask.

It’s not because it’s a particularly great name, it’s more because there’s a real childhood resonance with me. For many years, family holidays were in my mum’s native Moray area of North East Scotland, and all journeys there went via Perth. A few miles before Perth on the A9 there was a sign pointing off to a place called Findo Gask. For some reason it always intrigued me and this intrigue was probably accentuated by us never actually going there. It wasn’t on the road I guess – so near yet so far.

Not having made that journey for many years, the name had long slipped out of my consciousness until I saw it crop up in the Rough Trade new releases list at the start of the year. No matter what they sounded like, even if they were emo, I still had to hear Findo Gask. And what transpired was better than I dared hope for. Findo Gask – who are a Glasgow-based outfit consisting of four blokes called Gerard, Michael, Gregory and Gavin – play a very agreeable type of guitar-based electro-pop, which somehow surpasses the more juvenile Camden/ East London version as well as anything I’ve heard off the new Hot Chip album. The fact that they’re signed to Optimo’s Oscarr record label is surely a sign of hipster credentials, so expect some sort of hype to begin circulating soon. I know little else them, mainly just that they’ve produced some very decent tunes. Enjoy a couple of these.

Download: Findo Gask – Va Va Va
Downalod: Findo Gask – Go Aquatic

Buy the Va-Va-Va 12 inch from Rough Trade. There's a FREE disco mix of Va-Va-Va at the Oscarr site.

Black Mountain - In the Future

Is prog rock necessarily a bad thing? The term is definitely used in the pejorative sense by a lot of music writers, as in ‘that’s a bit prog’ = ‘not good’. I had a bit of a discussion on this theme with a couple of friends last week, sparked off by the new Black Mountain album In the Future. One called it ‘Black Sabbath meets Jethro Tull’. The other rose to the defence of prog as mainly good with a few bad exceptions, and the foundation of art rock. So art rock or old fart rock? Who’s to decide?

Anyway, back to Black Mountain. My own knowledge of prog rock is somewhat limited, but I could see even before I listened to the album that there might be a bit of proggy goings-on inside. Just look at that cover! It’s about as prog as they come. But what of the music? I think it’s probably wise to ditch notions of banks of keyboards, Rick Wakeman, capes and 10 minute noodling solos. But then again, don’t totally dispel the keyboard thought entirely, because that’s one main factor that seems to mark out the difference between In the Future and Black Mountain’s self-titled debut from 2005. Sure, there are long songs on the new album, but Black Mountain wasn’t exactly full of three minute pop songs either. What’s different is the more epic feel of the new songs, which sometimes come in movements – quiet part, loud part, then fade off again etc. etc. And that keyboard sound, much more prominent than before, sometimes even daring to cross into what might be called (gasp) ‘noodling’. Hmmmm…

I’ve just listened to both albums right though, back to back, first one first. And sure enough, the debut has more urgency, more of a dirty rock ‘n’ roll feel. The new one still has the riffs the size of a house – Stormy High certainly starts off the record on old territory – but there’s definitely a more polished feel and it all seems a bit more controlled. I keep wanting them to rock out a bit more. All of this might seem like I’m down on In the Future, but I’m really not. I actually quite like it. It’s not as amazing as I’d hoped for, but still pretty good. And it’s not all prog and riffs either – the gloriously languid, almost country Stay Free is probably my favourite track. I’ve just been reminding myself that In the Future is a slightly different beast to the first LP. Ironically it’s on their longest song – the 16 minute long Bright Lights – where Black Mountain probably rock out the most. Maybe prog is a good thing after all.

Download: Black Mountain – Stormy High
Downlaod: Black Mountain – Stay Free

Buy In the Future from Rough Trade* or download from emusic.

*I thought that there might be a national run on Black Mountain last Monday when I went into Rough Trade East on the day of release and they had sold out! Though that was more likely due to the amount stock they had received and not In the Future catapulting into the top 10.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Normal service will be resumed soon...

In case anyone's wondering why none of the mp3 links work, that's because my file host has just terminated my account. So that's everything that was still available on this blog gone - just like that! I know it's an occupational hazard in this game and I can accept it, but it's still bloody annoying. So bear with me until I get a new host sorted out. In the meantime feel free to actually read stuff. Oh, and any file host recommendations will be very welcome.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dawn Landes, Thao Nguyen @ Barden’s Boudoir, 27 January 2007

As regular readers of this blog will know, a small baby at home means that my gig-going these days is limited, so I usually have to choose my trips carefully and well in advance. So far though, my record of getting great shows has been pretty good. This gig however was a bit of a last-minute decision, after a friend’s email reminded me on Friday. An interest in at least two of the artists and a close proximity to home led me to head over to Dalston on Sunday night to the third of Bardens Boudoir’s four Winter Warmer gigs.

It was a singer-songwriters night – four artists, all performing under their own names. We got there in time to catch the last two songs by Nic Dawson Kelly. I was enjoying it in a distracted kind of way – mainly his voice which sounded like David Thomas Broughton gone rock – until my friend whispered "Ocean Colour Scene" into my ear. That spoiled it for me a bit. Next up was Catherine Anne Davies, and after a couple of songs we retired to one of Bardens’ comfy corner sofas – it was just a bit too boring for me. Songs that didn’t grab in any way.

But the last two artists were very good. In reverse order; Dawn Landes. She was the ostensible headliner, but coming on stage just before 11pm on a Sunday night at a venue a bit off the beaten track for non-East Enders meant that she had a sparser crowd than she really deserved. My only previous knowledge of Landes was a couple of decent songs on a Boy Scout Recordings compilation I got free at the End of the Road Festival last year. She’s just released her new album Fireproof on Fargo records in this country and her set was mainly taken from this record, with a few covers and older songs thrown in for good measure.

She’s got a lovely clear voice, and well-crafted songs which are reminiscent of a less countrified Laura Cantrell. She seemed a little nervous and kept apologising for messing up songs, but she needn’t have, it’s not like people who go to gigs at Bardens are looking for super-slick performances. The fact that it was slightly rough around the edges only added to the charm. Dawn started with a beautiful solo cover of a Tom Waits song before being joined by her band consisting of a bass player and a drummer. She also managed the acoustic-to-electric elements of her recorded songs with good use of effects pedals. The set ended with a great whistle-along cover of Young Folks, which was even better than the her 'bluegrass version' which did the blog rounds a few months back. A fine performance then, and Fireproof is also well worth checking out.

Download: Dawn Landes – Picture Show
Download: Dawn Landes – Dig Me a Hole

I’m saving the best till last, because good though Dawn Landes was, for me, she was trumped on the night by the artist who preceded her – Thao Nguyen. It seems that the Virginian singer-songwriter has recently dropped her surname, probably because she figured that it was enough to have one difficult-to-pronounce name, rather than two (by the way, if you want to get her first name right, it rhymes with ‘ciao’ and you don’t pronounce the ‘h’). In any case, since her debut album in 2005, she’s hooked up with a band called The Get Down Stay Down but on this trip she’s only accompanied by her drummer Willis Thompson. The acoustic guitar and drums combo was a winning one, so much that I can’t see what a wider band could do to improve things. I could be wrong though.

Thao is one of these performers that it’s hard not to warm to. She seems totally at ease on stage and even apologises that she can’t chat as much as she’d like to because they’re trying to cram as many songs as possible into their half-hour slot. But not before confessing that she’s glad to be back among English speakers where her between-song "bullshitting" can actually be understood. So much for the chat, the music was great. She’s another artist with well-crafted songs, which are obviously informed by American folk music, but modern and bolshy enough to be taken up by label with the rep of Kill Rock Stars. She’s an energetic performer and an excellent guitar player, and any lack of technical expertise in the vocal stakes more than matched by the passion and sense of fun in her delivery.

Thao’s been called ‘Cat Power in cowboy boots’, which is not a bad description, but also particularly apposite because Chan Marshall was playing across town this very evening, peddling her new-look slow blues jams. Even though I heard good reports from that gig, I still know where I’d rather have been. For me, Thao’s a real find, and I was more than happy to part with a tenner for her debut album Like the Linen at the end of the show. I’d definitely see her again too – then I can maybe see if the band adds anything, or makes her sound even better.

Download: Thao Nguyen – Tallymarks
Download: Thao Nguyen – What About

The now surname-free Thao’s new album We Brave Bee Stings and All is out this week, but more on that later.

In the meantime you can buy Thao’s Like the Linen from cdbaby and …Bee Stings… from Rough Trade, where you can also get Fireproof.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Vampire Weekend - good new old album

It’s not just the internet’s fault. Sure, the many circulating tracks from Vampire Weekend’s debut self-titled album have meant that not many songs were new to me on my first proper listen to the album last week, but between their debut EP and first single for XL, tracks 1-4 on the album have also been previously released. It wasn’t till I got to Campus (track 6) that I came across something I hadn’t heard before.

But all that aside, it was good to hear Vampire Weekend as a single entity, played through its 34 minute duration. Let’s try to forget the familiarity and concentrate on the songs. Let’s also not pretend to know anything about African music, so unlike many reviewers I’m not going to say that it’s obviously influenced by hi-life or whatever-the-heck-else African genres. I know nothing about them and I daresay most of the reviewers don’t either (that said, my sole recent foray into African music – the superb Ethiopiques compilation – was so enjoyable that I really should write about it here sometime). Let’s forget all the stuff about Ivy League preppiness, because I don’t know much about what all that is either.

What I do know is that it’s a great album, brim-full of indie-pop goodness, featuring that high-pitched guitar sound which is exotic enough to stand out from their post-punk peers. But it’s not just exoticism, it’s simply a better quality of songs, with decent tunes. Let’s not forget in all of this skinny-jean posing lark that it’s sometimes important to have tunes you can hum along to. Mansard Roof still soars in all the brief, rattling glory that made it one of my favourite songs from last year. The new songs sound right up to scratch. The added strings actually enhance the songs which feature them. The lyrics that are just enough on the right side of pretentious to make them continually interesting. And it’s got a simple breezy feel which by the end seems like it’s over all too soon. There's a short running time for sure, but Vampire Weekend seems like such good company that the time just flies past. Just press play and listen to the whole thing all the way through again.

Download: Vampire Weekend – Mansard Roof
Download: Vampire Weekend – Walcott

Buy Vampire Weekend (it’s out today) from Rough Trade or download from emusic.

The other good news is that there are some newly announced British tour dates.

Feb 21 London ULU
Feb 22 Wolverhampton Civic
Feb 23 Oxford Academy
Feb 24 Brighton Audio

So ULU on the 21st then? I think so.

Friday, January 25, 2008

'New' Young Republic album, new live songs

This post has been a long time in coming for reasons that are just too boring to go into right here, but my tardiness has proved to be quite timely. The songs posted below come from a live radio session recorded by The Young Republic for last May, but having them here today gives me the opportunity for a nice tie-in with the proper release of the band’s debut album, 12 Tales From Winter City.

As I’ve said before, it’s not a new album as such – it’s a collection of songs that The Young Republic put out on a series of self-released recordings in the US over the past couple of years. It’s also not very new, given that all true YR aficionados will probably have already purchased their copy from one of the UK’s superior record shops (like Rough Trade and Piccadilly Records) when advance CDs sneaked in last autumn. On the basis of this, it made no. 6 in my top 10 albums of last year.

But let’s not worry about any of this too much. What you need to know is that it is a brilliant record and well worth your time and money, particularly if you’ve got a liking for well-crafted indie pop, quality songwriting and a pleasing mix of influences and ideas. I’ve already reviewed it, so you can read that here. It’s good to see that it’s already been picking up some decent reviews, as it only rightly should. Hopefully this will continue, because I’m sure End of the Road Records (the same people who run the excellent festival of the same name) doesn’t have a massive advertising budget and the record will probably depend on word of mouth to be a success. Let’s hope so.

Given that the songs on 12 Tales… have been around for a while, it’s only natural that Julian Saporiti and co. have newer songs that they’ve written more recently. Three of these were performed on the WOXY radio show, and they’re all really good. There are also live versions of Blue Skies and Girl From the Northern States, off the album. Until there’s newer YR material out, these will do nicely.

Download: The Young Republic – Blue Skies
Download: The Young Republic – Idiot Grin
Download: The Young Republic – Third Night Balcony
Download: The Young Republic – Mary Ellen*
Download: The Young Republic – Girl From the Northern States

*sung by Bob Merkl

You can now buy 12 Tales From Winter City at all the usual outlets – Amazon, HMV etc. You really should.

Other Young Republic news is that now all the band members have finished music college, they’re relocating to Nashville this month. I’m not sure if this will give them a better base for an assault on the rest of the country, but hopefully 2008 will see them get much more attention in their homeland. London fans will also be pleased to know that Julian is coming over to play a solo show at the End of the Road / The Local residency at Bush Hall (new year, bigger venue!) on 26 March. Should be a good ‘un. Scenesters will be able to catch the whole band at SXSW.

Finally, check back for previously-blogged YR radio sessions (with mp3s still available) - Xfm last June and the WOXY session from 2006.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off The Lavender Bridge

It’s been a long time coming, but this week it’s finally with us. It’s almost a year since Dev Hynes flew to Omaha to record his debut album as Lightspeed Champion, produced by Saddle Creek and Bright Eyes mainstay Mike Mogis. Although it’s been in the can waiting for release all that time, we were given a couple of trailers in the second half of last year in the form of a two limited edition 10 inch singles, which gave an indication of what we might expect. The prospect was a bit mixed.

First single Galaxy of the Lost was a glorious country-pop gem that was easily one of my singles of last year. Follow-up Midnight Surprise was a bit of a sprawling mess that didn’t seem to go anywhere over the nine minutes of its duration. The other Lightspeed tracks circulating, both as b-sides and on the internet also pointed to a mixed picture, but with the probability weighed slightly in favour of ‘good’. Then, first impressions on seeing the album cover in the shop weren’t so good – titles like Let the Bitches Die, and Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk suggested something a bit juvenile and annoying.

But now after a few days of having Falling off the Lavender Bridge in my possession, I’m happy to say that the results are much better than I’d expected. There are only a couple of duffers here, and most of the rest are really rather good - particularly the sparking new single Tell Me What it's Worth. Mind you, how much of this is down to Dev’s songwriting and how much to the seasoned guiding hand of Mike Mogis is probably up for debate. Although it’s something that I’d almost never say as a positive thing, I think that …Lavender Bridge is a bit of a triumph of production. The lush county-pop stylings, full of swishy strings, the languid sweep of the lap steel and (crucially) the sweet backing vocals of Emmy the Great on almost every track all contribute to it sounding fully formed and not unlike a junior version of Bright Eyes. But whether or not all this is Dev’s or Mike’s influence probably isn’t that important (though the fact that Dev’s favourite band is The Strokes can clearly be heard on I Could Have Done This Myself) because what we have is a satisfying and well-rounded debut album, which despite occasionally grating lyrics fully justifies the investment Domino have put into developing Dev as a solo artist. And perhaps surprisingly, it’s one that bears up to repeated listening, sounding even better after a few spins. I’m even warming to Midnight Surprise now. Good times…

Download: Lightspeed Champion – Galaxy of the Lost
Download: Lightspeed Champion – I Could Have Done This Myself

I’d advise you to buy the album from Rough Trade, because you’ll get a bonus CD of cover versions (Dev loves covers, as can be evidenced from a lot of sources, including here). There are versions of tracks by Good Shoes and Patrick Wolf which are as uninteresting as the originals. Much better are his takes on Xanadu and a song from the musical Hair.

Download: Lightspeed Champion – Xanadu

Dev is about to embark on a massive tour – all details on the myspace. On the strength of this album I might even be tempted to go and see him. Supported by Semifinalists too. Double good.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lincoln – an update

So that worked out quite well then. Last March I did a post about Lincoln, my favourite ever alt-country band from Stoke Newington. If you’ve never heard of them, they released two mini-albums and a full-length back in 2001 and 2002 then disappeared. I wrote the post wondering out loud what happened to them. I now have an answer. It’s nothing scandalous or titillating. It’s not even, as one commenter suggested, due to inter-band friction. Just the boring, everyday realities of getting that little bit older, having families and other commitments and exercising freedom of movement to other parts of the country.

So now I know. I also found out that Alex Gordon and Matt Dowse from Lincoln formed a band called Heed the Thunder, along with some people from West Country ska-punks Citizen Fish. Their myspace reveals that the songs are in a similar vein to the sound of Lincoln, only not quite as good. Still worth checking out though. They released an album on Falsify Records, but the label site doesn’t seem to be there anymore, so I can’t encourage you to buy. Just listen to a couple of tracks from their myspace page. (by the way, Crum Hall, the Lincoln drummer hits skins on Street Life, which makes it a reunion of half the old band).

Download: Heed the Thunder – Street Life
Download: Heed the Thunder – Will to Succeed

One of the other good things arising from that post was that I managed to put some band members who had lost touch back in contact with each other (and even someone else from a fairly well-known band back in touch with one of Lincoln). But best of all for me, Matt sent me a copy of Lincoln’s last ever release, the New Partner EP. There are four tracks, one is Blood on the Streets off the Mettle album, So Glad I Came which was recorded during the album sessions, a wonderful cover of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s New Partner, and final track Xmas 13 which I think is a home recording.

It’s all lovely stuff, and a perfect endpiece to the recording career of what was a great band. Sure there’s some regret from me that not enough other people thought they were great and that Lincoln are no longer playing or releasing music. But then again, I’ve not had to put up with them recording rubbish albums and hoping that the next one will be better. Just four CDs of high quality music. Age will not wither them.

Here are a couple of tracks from New Partner. Enjoy.

Download: Lincoln – New Partner
Download: Lincoln – So Glad I Came

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cat Power - Jukebox

For an artist once famed for being erratic and inconsistent, Cat Power has hit a rare groove of regular form. The new clean, sober and focused Chan Marshall now knows when she’s onto a good thing. The Greatest was in many ways her breakthrough album, so new record Jukebox was unlikely to mess with the formula that made her a bit more of star last time around. It’s also meant that what could be seen as a Covers Record volume 2, was unlikely to repeat the breathy minimalism of that record. Not after she’s been back down south and toured with the Memphis Rhythm Band of such good ol’ legends as Teenie Hodges and Spooner Oldham. Her settled backing group of late, the aptly-named Dirty Delta Blues Band are the studio band here, and do a decent job of recreating the Greatest sound, except minus the horns and strings. So far though, sounds pretty good.

However, the thing with Jukebox is that it’s not that it’s a bad record as such, it’s just one that’s hard to imagine being truly loved by anyone. For people favourably disposed, as I am, to loping bluesy country-got-soul jammings, it’s ideal and I do like it, but there’s also something lacking. Mainly it’s variation. The jam lasts through most of the record, and although Marshall maintains her reputation as an artist who can transform the originals in the songs she covers, the result is that she ends up making them all sound pretty much the same. So there’s little variation in style and tempo between originals as widely different as New York, New York, Hank Williams’ Ramblin’ Man, Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Nick Cave’s Breathless. It’s all very well her stamping her own personality on other people’s songs (which all good cover versions should), but you can’t help but be left wanting something more. Which leaves the question of whether the newer, bigger Chan Marshall is actually any better than the old erratic one, musically at least. The revisiting of her own Metal Heart and lone new track Song for Bobby don’t offer much of a clue either. Until the new album proper drops, the jury’s still out.

Download: Cat Power – Breathless
Download: Cat Power – New York

Buy Jukebox from Rough Trade or from emusic

New Jamie Lidell excitement

Yeah, I know it's been on Pitchfork, and it's not news anymore, but I'm posting it because the new album from Jamie Lidell is one of my most highly-anticipated of the year. I was listening to Multiply again last week for the first time in ages and it's just so good. Easily one of the best records of the past five years. From the evidence of the above track, it seems like there might be more loose-limbed funk, which is a nice addition to the tight retro soul of Multiply. Speaking of which, here's a reminder of its goodness.

Download: Jamie Lidell - Game for Fools

Also from Pitchfork, we learned that the new album's called Jim (?) and is out on Warp on 29 April. Whoop!

Back to this week, and it's a good week for new releases. The main ones of interest for me are Cat Power's Jukebox (review coming right up - it's the only one I have so far), Black Mountain's In the Future, Lightspeed Champion's Falling Off Lavender Bridge. There are new singles from Noah and the Whale and Real Ones. Plus folky curios from Adrian Crowley, Thistletown, Dawn Landes and This is the Kit. It could be an expensive week. I will approach Rough Trade with caution.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Welcome to their TV show

I like Jeremy Warmsley. Not that I know him personally, I'm just a big fan of his 2006 album The Art of Fiction, though he does seem like a nice chap. So it was a pleasant surprise to see an email from him pop into my inbox yesterday. Here was me hoping that it was news of the follow-up to Fiction, but it wasn't (when's it out? when's it out?). Still, no need to complain because it was a plug for his new 'TV show'. It's called, somewhat originally, 'Welcome to Our TV Show' and features performances from Jeremy and his mates, encamped in his living room.

The first two shows have performances from Mystery Jets, Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale and the man himself. Since they were recorded in December, there is a bit of a Christmas thing going on which feels a bit odd watching in January, when brown and decaying Christmas trees are littering the streets of London. According to J-Wo, the TV show is "somewhere between Jools Holland and Wayne's World" (make up your own mind on that) and will be "'monthly'" (his own quotation marks, no doubt guarding against any strict interpretations of monthly). It's a good start. Looking forward to what's to come. Enjoy.

Part 1

Part 2


Mystery Jets - Flakes
Jeremy Warmsley - I Think I'm Going Out of My Head (cover of a song by Little Anthony and the Imperials)
Laura Marling - Shine
Noah and the Whale - To Cyril at Crunkmas

And speaking of Laura Marling, click here for a sweet vid of her covering The Needle and the Damage Done, whilst ghosting between different locations (you'll need RealPlayer).

Antarctica Takes It!

After yesterday’s excursion in the direction of the dancefloor, today we’re firmly back in the indiepop territory. And they don’t come much more indiepop that Antarctica Takes It! (the exclamation mark is part of the name, I’m not that excited). The band, led by singer Dylan McKeever hail from Santa Cruz, California and have an album called The Penguin League that’s about to be released over here by How Does it Feel to be Loved? records, though it’s been around since 2006 and available on their myspace.

When I say they don’t come much more indiepop, I mean the low-fi, DIY ethic of 1980s British indie, as heard on the likes of Rough Trade indiepop compilation. The recording was made by Dylan onto a friend's laptop, straight into the internal microphone and sounds as rough as you'd imagine from knowing that. Maybe they don’t have access to proper studios out in Santa Cruz, or maybe Dylan just wanted to capture the freshness of the moment. I like to think it’s the latter, because there’s the kind of wide-eyed naïve energy, sense of joy and excitement at making music that could have had the life and soul produced out of it if they wanted to be more professional. As long as you’re not planning to play the album loudly through a top-notch sound system it should sound fine. The accordions, glockenspiels, cellos, ukuleles, trumpets, harmonicas and pianos can all be heard clearly enough and the band's pleasingly ramshackle music is pretty hard to dislike.

So I like it just the way it is. I heartily recommend Antarctica Takes It! to non-cynics (or those willing to temporarily suspend their cynicism) everywhere. So much so that I’m posting these tracks on the strength of three that were sent to me recently. I haven’t even received a copy of the album yet, but when I do, I’ve got every confidence that it’s going to be as good as these are.

Download: Antarctica Takes It! – The Song is You
Download: Antarctica Takes It! – Antarctica

You can buy The Penguin League from the band’s myspace for a bargain $6 now, or wait until it’s released in the UK on 11 February. You can pre-order it from Rough Trade.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More Strut, more Disco, yeah

Back in 2000 a compilation called Disco Not Disco was released on Strut Records which made a bit of a splash. It was compiled by Joey Negro and Sean P who collected a heap of New York late 70s club classics from the likes of Dinosaur, Loose Joints, Liquid Liquid and Don Cherry. It was disco, but not the sort of disco that might immediately spring to mind when the word is mentioned. Hence the title, I guess.

It was a perfect 11-track summary of a particular type of music from a particular time that was about to become a whole lot more widespread in the years that followed. Listening to the likes of LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture, you can clearly hear what some of their biggest influences are.

The comp was successful enough to lead to a volume two a year later. Again more similar classics. I wish I had bought them now, because in 2003 Strut folded and now the albums sell for silly money. The one on Amazon marketplace at the moment is going for fifty quid. Bah.

But there’s some good news. Not only is Strut Records being revived, but there’s another Disco Not Disco compilation that’s been released this week. In some ways it’s more of the same twisted disco, punk-funk, proto-house, whatever you want to call it. But in this case, more of the same is definitely a good thing. There must be so many of these late 70s / early 80s gems out there that need to be heard by a new audience, and Bill Brewster has selected 14 excellent tracks from these. Every one a killer. There are a bit more British and European tracks on this new one too, with such forgotten legends as Shriekback, Quango Quango and Delta 5 getting a welcome re-appraisal. There are extensive sleevenotes from the renowned DJ historian too, all making the CD lovely little package.

Here are a couple of tunes:

Download: Quango Quango – Love Tempo (Remix)
Download: Delta 5 – Mind Your Own Business

Buy it

More info on the Disco Not Disco website. It has some video action, including this corker of a live performance from German outfit Liaisons Dangereuses, which featured members of the yet-to-be-formed Einstürzende Neubauten. Check that dancing!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Kid is back

Here’s somebody who believes in value for money. When most artists release an EP it’s usually four songs. Some even have the temerity to call a three-track single an EP. With the third track a live recording. But not Kid Harpoon. He’s now onto his second EP for Young Turks Records and like the first (see my review of that here), he’s crammed six tracks on. So that’s a whole album’s worth of new material before any long-player is even released. Good on him.

All of this would of course count for nothing if the songs themselves weren’t any good, but happily this isn’t the case. These are six solid tunes, which are compelling listening without necessarily being catchy. The first impression from the start of Riverside is that he’s rocking out a bit more. He’s practically spitting out the words as he sings “I will watch you sink to the river bed”. Crikey. But then again, we’re lacking some decent murder ballads in today’s world of indie.

And so on through the next five tracks as the Chatham’s finest young bard (are there any more, apart from the considerably older Billy Childish?) showcases imaginative lyricism, instrumentation that doesn’t sacrifice intricacy even when turning up the volume a bit, and the Kid’s obvious passion for all of this stuff. Although Riverside may be the obvious stand-out, my favourite is Her Body Sways, which is a little bit warmer, a little bit folky, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, and all great. It’s all highly recommended.

Download: Kid Harpoon – Her Body Sways

The Second EP is out on Young Turks on 18 February, on 7 inch vinyl. Those of you who have record players, you know what to do. Those of you who don’t, know too – get one! (it'll probably be on emusic as well though)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Broadcast 2000

What would the name Broadcast 2000 suggest to you? I’d think of an electronic artist for sure. Maybe even one in some sort of awe of erm, Broadcast maybe. It also makes me think of all these pre-millennial ropily-titled clubs, pseudonyms and other projects, whose built-in titular obsolescence was evident as soon as the clocked ticked 12:00 on 1 January 2001.

But anyone misled by the name would be missing out on some fine music, because that’s exactly what Joe Steer, who is Broadcast 2000 provides us with. And far from containing bleeps or repetitive beats, it’s breezy, summery folk-pop. Maybe I write about this sort of stuff too much on this blog, but I’m a bit of a sucker for someone who knows their way round a decent pop tune augmented with nicely judged harmonies and a bit of quirky instrumentation. The tracks on Broadcast 2000’s debut EP Building Blocks suggest someone who might be at home in the Fence Collective, but with more of a shiny pop sensibility (and by that I don’t mean KT Tunstall). It also puts me in mind of other Daily Growl favourites such as Beirut, M Craft and Barbarossa.

The EP was recorded, mixed and mastered in Steer’s north London flat, and over the six tracks on the EP he combines cello, double bass, guitar, ukulele, glockenspiel, banjo, makeshift percussion and his own layered vocals to fine effect. The EP’s currently only available at iTunes, but he’s just signed a record deal, so hopefully those of us who prefer a physical product should have one sometime soon.

Download: Broadcast 2000 – Don’t Weigh Me Down

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Singles going steady 16: The Kills

Two singles going steady in one week? You would think that I've got nothing new to write about. Well, that's partly true, but it's also kinda topical because this week The Kills released their new single U.R.A. Fever, their first new material for almost three years, and their first under a new non-musical media spotlight. It's also prompted me to break with my alphabetical convention, but hey.

The only Kills CD single in my collection is their debut EP from 2002, and it's great. Back then, there weren't very many bands doing that sort of dirty, scuzzy blues-influenced indie rock, and they were something genuinely exciting. The four tracks on the Black Rooster EP, three of which were recorded onto 8-track at the legendary analogue Toe Rag studios in Hackney and one which was a live recording, had an immediate resonance with me. It was one of my favourite things that year, and I think it's still the best thing they've done. Not that the album that followed (Keep on Your Mean Side) wasn't also a sleazy rock delight, but the follow up No Wow in 2005 didn't really do it for me. I also saw them live around that time too, and they were pretty rubbish. So for me, it's still all about that first EP. Listening to it again for the first time in ages it still sounds fresh and distinctive, even although East London is currently full of young bucks trying out similar ideas.

From the couple of listens I've had, I'm not too impressed by U.R.A. Fever, and I've no idea if the new album will be any good or not. Let's hope so. In the meantime here's a couple of tracks to remind us of how good they were.

Download: The Kills - Black Rooster
Download: The Kills - Wait

See, I almost made it though this whole post without mentioning Kate Moss, but not now.

Buy U.R.A. Fever. Black Rooster is still available for silly money on Amazon, but it's worth tracking it down elsewhere.

Check out the rest of Singles Going Steady here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Singles going steady - the comple works

This post is mainly for linkage purposes. Last March, I started a series called Singles Going Steady, which is a trawl through my CD single collection, before I box it up and consign it (most of it anyway), to the back of some cupboard in my house. Everyone knows that CD singles is a format that's close to extinction, but there's a lot of great music on mine that's worth celebrating while I still have them to hand.

The list below will obviously be added to over time. Just before it comes however, being an mp3 blog, this provides the opportunity for a musical tie-in. The most appropriate one I have here is Barr's The Song is the Single, from last year's Summary album on Upset! The Rhythm. I'm not normally a big fan of Brendan Fowler's spoken-word-with-beats stuff, but this track is great. It's more for the title than the lyrical content though, because unlike the chorus of the song, the singles on these posts most definitely do not suck.

The posts.

Most of these will no longer have the mp3s attached, but if you would like anything, give me a shout.

2. Avalanches remixes and b-sides
4. !!!
5. My Radio 2 tendencies (Athlete, Tori Amos, All Saints, Aztec Camera)
6. Bjork
7. Blur
8. The Bluetones
9. The Beta Band
10. Gone, but not entirely forgotten (Barefoot Contessa, Blind Jackson)
11. Beachwood Sparks
12. The Breeders
13. Boards of Canada
14. Belle & Sebastian special
15. Coldcut
16. The Kills
17. Cornershop

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

You need Broken Records

Here’s a band that I’ve ignored for way too long. I’ve known about Broken Records ever since Matthew from Song, By Toad started writing enthusiastically about them last year, but only ever casually listened to them. My mistake. Last week I gave their tunes more of my time and now I’m convinced that they’re easily one of the best unsigned bands in the country right now.

Surprised then to see that no-one other than the venerable Drowned in Sound are tipping them for greatness this year. Maybe they’re still too much under the radar, and presumably haven’t played many gigs outside their native Edinburgh (or at least central Scotland). But though they don’t have any official releases in the shops, they do have a four-track EP for sale via their myspace. You should really buy it.

Why? It seems that even though they only formed a year ago, Broken Records have somehow emerged fully formed and substantial – no whimsical or roughly recorded home demos with this lot. Right from the start they’ve got a huge sound, which will no doubt have the critics reaching for words like ‘Arcade’ and ‘Fire’ before too long. It’s not an unreasonable thing to say though, what with their effective use of violins, mandolins, accordions and shouted vocals. But I’d also add words like ‘The Waterboys’ and maybe ‘Broken Social Scene'. Whatever the comparisons, far more than most new bands just now, you need a bit of Broken Records in your life.

Here are a couple of tracks – one from the EP and another nicked off Song, by Toad.

Download: Broken Records – A Good Reason
Download: Broken Records – Nearly Home

Buy the EP from their myspace. Have I said that already? Worth saying again.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Singles going steady 15: Coldcut

It’s about time that I got back onto this series. We’re up to the Cs now, which means that it’s going to take some time to get to the end, but bear with me, there are heaps of musical treats along the way.

Today it’s the turn of Coldcut, who for anyone who doesn’t know is John More and Matt Black, true legends in the world of British breakbeat music (a small field, for sure, but they’re still legends). The two CD singles I have are from two very different parts of their career.

The first one is a cracker and comes from Coldcut’s golden pop period, back when they were regular fixtures in the top ten. Jon and Matt first rose to prominence in 1987 with their still-classic remix of Eric B and Rakim’s Paid in Full, then had chart success in the UK with Yazz (remember her?) and Doctorin’ the House, and the immense Northern Soul cover The Only Way is Up (under the guise of The Plastic Population) which was the biggest selling single of 1988. The next year there was yet another big hit as they introduced Lisa Stansfield to the world on the house-pop classic People Hold On. This is the single I have, and is posted below. I’ve gone for the nine and half minute glory of the full length disco mix. It’s still one of the best things Coldcut have done, and easily the best thing Lisa Stansfield ever did, even though she went onto fame in her own right.

Download: Coldcut feat. Lisa Stansfield – People Hold On (full length disco mix)

Skip forward 12 years to something completely different. 2001 saw a general election in the UK, and four years after the Labour Party’s landslide victory of 1997, something of the initial sheen had begun to wear off, and Tony Blair’s smile had stopped becoming promising and was now just false or creepy. In the midst of the campaign, Coldcut did something that it’s usually unwise for any artist to do – record a political single. Of course they did it in their own skewed way, but almost seven years later, it does sound pretty dated. They sampled speeches from various politicians and cut them up over a backing track of other samples and beats, but it’s to great effect and most of the politicians sampled are no longer at the forefront of British political life.

Still, it wasn’t a bad effort and I remember going along to an event/publicity stunt they hosted on the Victoria Embankment to support the single under the name of The Guilty Party (one of them may even have stood for Parliament somewhere that year – I can’t remember), but failed to blag one of the free CDs they were handing out. It’s a bit of a curiosity, and I think I was keen to get it mainly because it came during a typically long absence of any new Coldcut material (it was nine years between Let Us Play and Sound Mirrors in 2006). I’ve spared you from the political soundbites and posted the instrumental version of Re:Volution.

Download: Coldcut – Re:Volution (instrumental)

Though if you really want to hear (and see) what the track was like in its original format, complete with the politicians themselves, try this youtube clip.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Jaymay - Autumn Fallin'

I had never heard of Jaymay before I saw her supporting Elvis Perkins back at the Luminaire in May. I had no expectations, so twenty minutes or so in the company of the New York singer-songwriter accompanied only by her acoustic guitar was an enjoyable, if unamazing time spent. I remember she had a good voice, and the songs seemed decent, even if I recall some lyrics being a bit twee.

Then nothing more until I heard that her debut album Autumn Fallin’ was being released on Heavenly Records at the tail end of last year. It eventually made its way to me via my one month gift membership of the Rough Trade Album Club (it was their album of the month for December). The thing with the Album Club is that if you don’t like their main choice, you can always exchange it for another of their top 10 picks. But even though it’s not an amazing album, I’m not quite ready to exchange it for Yeasayer.

It’s one of these records that are eminently likeable without ever really setting the pulses racing. There’s plenty folk-pop tunes to enjoy, though why Jamie Seerman (that’s her other name) and not countless other NYC coffee-house style singers isn’t entirely clear. Though for now it is her and I’m pleased enough about that. For a record by a singer-songwriter on a major label, it’s surprisingly not over-produced. Sure, it’s hardly Nina Nastastia, but there’s not too much getting in the way and the songs are left to stand up for themselves.

Seerman’s clearly a Dylan nut, and this can be clearly heard throughout the album, so much so that on You'd Rather Run, it’s just so Dylan it’s almost a pastiche. But despite this, and its running time of almost ten minutes, it neither seems misjudged nor outstays its welcome and it’s probably my favourite track on the album. The next track Hard to Say is a total change of tack, as she slips into pop-jazz showtune territory, complete with mimicked trumpet noises. If that sounds like a bit of a joke, then maybe it is. The problem with too many singer-songwriter albums is that they’re just a bit too po-faced. These two tracks make me think that maybe Jaymay has that little bit extra which sets her above the other East Village singers.

Download: Jaymay – You’d Rather Run
Download: Jaymay – Hard to Say

The bonus with the Album Club was getting an extra CD with 6 tracks not on the album, proving that Jaymay’s got more decent tunes up her sleeve. Here’s one of them.

Download: Jaymay – Corduroy

Buy Autumn Fallin’.

Sara Lowes

I first mentioned Sara Lowes on this blog back in November 2006, as I anticipated the second album by The Earlies, the band which she plays keyboards for. I also posted two tracks from a 7 inch single recorded by Sara with The Earlies as her backing band – it’s one of the obscure gems from my record collection, and well worth picking up if you see it anywhere. The cover of the Webb Brothers I’ve Been Waiting was good enough, but it was The Ballad of Thomas Danger that really showcased her talents as a songwriter.

As far as I’m aware, this single was her only recorded output before her EP Tomorrows Laughter hit the shops amid the seasonal silliness in December, and given the time of year, best of 2007s and all that, it probably slipped under anyone’s radar. Now that the New Year is here, the time’s right to give it a proper appraisal.

The EP is a six-tracker, each one packed with the sort of influences Sara no doubt extracts from her record collection. There’s elements of lovely hushed piano ballads, pleasing folkiness, cello which doesn’t seem like an add-on, late-period Beatles tendencies, and even the odd tilting towards 70s rock. The good thing is that all of these elements are often present in the same song.

It’s the title track that's the killer, with its hushed melodic opening, then when the snare drum sounds, it’s time to switch into pop gear. Add to that the psychedelic whirls which can be found elsewhere on the record (and have at least a little scent of the Earlies), and it’s my standout track so far this year (four days in) clocking in at a glorious six and a half minutes, not one second of which is wasted.

Download: Sara Lowes – Tomorrows Laughter

From her myspace, it seems that there aren’t any tour dates upcoming, which is a shame, but you can buy Tommorrows Laughter direct from the site or from good record shops.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

2008. What is it good for?

New Year is over, swiftly followed by a grim return to work. It’s been a good holiday, but the bleakness of this morning has put me in a less-than-enthusiastic mood for the start of the New Year. Maybe that’s appropriate because although blogger etiquette should dictate that I’ll spend the next week or so with my ‘tips for 2008’, I can’t really be bothered with all that.

Looking back on 2007, it was a mixed bag as far as my predictions went. Jack Penate got to be about as big as I expected, despite releasing a weak album. But who could have predicted just how successful Kate Nash became? I’m still not sure how that happened. Neither were the ‘industry insiders’, absent as she was from the start-of-year prediction polls. Some of the rest of my tips fell a bit flat though – nobody really got that excited (rightly so) about The Rumble Strips' album, Ali Love got a major record deal but then went all Calvin Harris on our asses, Jamie T went even further along the great singles/ rubbish album scale, iLiKETRAiNS' debut album just wasn’t as good as I’d hoped given the quality of previous releases, The Earlies failed to scale the heights of their debut album (though that was pretty high) and though Lucky Soul, Fields and The Aliens all released decent records, no-one really seemed to be paying attention.

Elsewhere, some of the bands and artists probably belong more in the tips for 2008 (if I was doing such a thing), such as Adele (who only released one single in 2007 but is everywhere now), Laura Groves (who got singed to XL offshoot Salvia records), Emmy the Great (who did two singles and a successful debut national tour), and I Was A Cub Scout (who also did singles and a heap of touring). Who knows, maybe Vincent Vincent and the Villains will get round to releasing something other than old singles again and the Shortwave Set will eventually put out their long-awaited (by me at least) second album.

But so much for 2007. This year I’m not doing big-in-2008 predictions because that makes it sound like I’ve got some sort of insider information, plus I’m not very interested in who’s going to be big this year. Let other, better-connected people do that instead, as they are already doing. Speaking of which, no surprises on the annual BBC list so far, and surely no-one’s taking any more bets on the No.1 being Adele. The fact is, the bands or artists who are going to be big are the ones who've got a load of cash behind them.

Instead, I’ll just continue blogging about good new music that’s made its way onto my various listening devices. You can count them as tips if you like, but like everything else I write about here, it’s just about me sharing my enthusiasm for music – old or new.

There are things I am looking forward to though. New albums from Black Mountain, Hot Chip, Nick Cave, Be Your Own Pet, Lightspeed Champion, Los Campesinos! and Beach House for starters. Plus whatever else the internet throws my way. I'm also looking forward to getting a new home computer, or at least a new monitor so I can see clearly to get my backlog of live radio sessions sorted out a bit.

Happy New Year to you all. Here’s to a good 2008, musically and otherwise.