Thursday, April 30, 2009

Blue Orchids – The Flood

Here’s a little slice of postpunk obscurity from Manchester’s Blue Orchids, a band that seem to be known best – if at all – for their relationship to the Fall (guitarist Martin Bramah and keyboardist Una Baines were both ex-members). There is some resemblance between the two groups, although Bramah’s lyrics aren’t quite as off-the-wall as Mark E. Smith’s. Their vocal styles are comparable to some extent; Bramah’s is less of a caterwaul but can be equally grating if you’re not in the right frame of mind for it. I don’t really think I could listen to a full album of theirs in one sitting, any more.

The coolest thing about the Blue Orchids was Una’s organ. It sounds oddly out of place in a lot of their songs, and indeed I can’t think offhand of another band of this genre that made such, erm, effective use of it.

This is one of their poppier moments, so not surprisingly one of my favourites.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Echo and the Bunnymen - Bring on the Dancing Horses

To my mind, this was the last great Bunnymen single. I don't know if it was the problems with Pete de Freitas or what but everything they did afterwards sounded as if they were just going through the motions. I suppose that happens to most bands who last for as long as they did, but at the time it really distressed me because I was such a big fan of theirs. And of course, like thousands of other teenage girls, I thought Ian was just the bee's knees. Well, he was.

This particular song has always struck me as magnificently understated, with a nonchalance that at first may let it go by almost unnoticed, but it's actually really nicely orchestrated if you listen to it carefully. New Order's "Lonesome Tonight" is another song from the same era that I'd describe in similar terms, and it's also one of my favourites.

Unfortunately I can't post the (adorable!) video thanks to their greedy record company but here's a reasonably good, fairly recent live version.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Salvation Army - Upside Down

Here's a two-minute gem from one of the founding bands of LA's Paisley Underground scene, the Salvation Army (later known as the Three O'Clock thanks to legal action from the unamused owners of that trademark). I absolutely adore the Three O'Clock, too, or at least their first few records, although like their close associates the Bangles they took a serious turn for the worse after getting mixed up with one Prince Rogers Nelson in the late 1980s.

Some would argue their decline began even before then, as their sound lost all traces of its early punk influence and effectively became the musical equivalent of candyfloss, but I for one still think they were great then. In any event, their debut album in their original incarnation remains a classic and this is probably my favourite track on it. Enjoy.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Bell X1 - Rocky Took a Lover (acoustic version)

One of the things I hope to do with this blog is to promote current Irish bands, since there are still so many deserving ones around. I've already namechecked a few in an earlier post. Here's one that is quite popular in Ireland, but still semi-obscure elsewhere.

The Bell X1 sound is fairly mainstream as far as "alternative" music goes, more along the likes of Keane or Muse rather than indiepop per se. But Paul Noonan has a great world-weary voice and a real penchant for storytelling in his lyrics, factors which I think put them well above the ranks of most of their musical peers.

This is an acoustic version of one of their biggest hits (in Ireland, anyway), and even if you hate the song you've got to admit it's a cute video.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet

I just noticed looking over at my labels that I hadn't put up anything from the '70s yet, so where better to start but with this song, which everybody loves. (If you don't, why are you here?) It's one of the ultimate indiepop songs, even if it wasn't actually an independent release; you could stick it on C86 and someone who'd never heard it before wouldn't think it was out of place at all. Except, of course, that it's even better than most of C86.

Not really much else needs to be said about this one. Just ... enjoy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Pogues - Hell's Ditch

Staying with the Irish theme, sort of, here's the title track from the Pogues' fifth album (and the last featuring Shane MacGowan). It's a rather odd little tune - dark as hell lyrically, and musically owing more to Eastern than Irish music. Shame they pretty much fell apart after this.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ash - Petrol

So I've been doing this blog for over a week now and have yet to post any Irish bands. Shameful. Ireland has produced a considerable amount of great indie (and non-indie alt) music, some of which you've heard and much of which you probably haven't. A few bands in the latter category that I would particularly single out are Hey Paulette, Mexican Pets and the Plague Monkeys; at some point I'll put some of their stuff up.

And the Irish music scene today isn't half bad either, despite the disgraceful lack of support it gets from most of the Irish media (Phantom 105 and Hot Press excepted). I'll throw out a few names here, too: New Amusement, the Funeral Suits, Seeping into Cinemas, the Rags, Ham Sandwich, Panda Kopanda. I could go on, but suffice it to say that I get really frustrated when I hear people my age or even younger complain that the music these days isn't as good as it used to be. It's different, ok, in some respects, but a lot of it is still really, really good. We're just old.

Again, I will try to post some newer stuff up eventually but for now here's a classic Irish tune from the early 1990s.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Beatles - Blackbird

Just thought it would be nice from time to time to drop in a reminder of where we came from. This is one of those Beatles songs you don’t hear too often, but I think it’s one of their loveliest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Orchids - Pelican Blonde

In a way, it's almost a shame that the Orchids were on Sarah. It meant that they were inextricably lumped in with the "twee" genre, which never really did them justice to begin with and was particularly inapplicable to their later recordings. Now personally, I love twee, but a lot of the genre is sort of one-dimensional and that's a criticism you simply couldn't lay against this band.

I've sometimes heard the Field Mice described as the best Sarah band for similar reasons. I wouldn't agree, mainly because I don't think they did twee particularly well; it was only when they broke out of that mould and brought harder guitars and/or electronics into their sound that I found them at all interesting (their softer ballady-type stuff tending too much towards the maudlin for my tastes). Some of the Orchids' finest moments, on the other hand, were their twee-est but their dancier tunes were also pretty fantastic. It's not just the genre-blending, but their ability to do it all so well, that made them stand out for me.

Love the effects in this one.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Racecar - Swallow

Jumping ahead a decade, here's a wonderful little piece from Washington DC's Racecar, featuring a singer (Jina Yi) who would have been a superstar if there was any justice in this world. Heavenly vocals and ringing guitars - what else do you need?

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Pale Fountains – These are the Things

While Pale Fountains’ debut album Pacific Street is rightly remembered as a classic – at least by the minority of people who ever heard it in the first place – the 1985 follow-up From Across the Kitchen Table met with considerably less approval, even from their own fans. And for the most part I agree with that less-favourable assessment. It’s a little too ambitious for its own good, too heavily orchestrated, too verbose. It just comes across as self-indulgent, in sharp contrast to the gentle, sweeping pop of its predecessor. So I don’t listen to it much.

This track is an exception. It's much more of a throwback to Pacific Street I think, with its jangly guitars and rousing, vaguely anthemic chorus. It’s also lyrically a lot simpler than most of the rest of the album - a perfect illustration of the cliché “less is more”. Unfortunately, little of what I heard of Michael Head's post-Fountains work seemed to continue in this vein.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Birthday Party - Dull Day

While I'm in post-punk mode, here's a little-known track from the first proper Birthday Party album Prayers on Fire. It's a Rowland S. Howard composition and very different lyrically to the Nick Cave songs - angsty poetry rather than demented stream (or should that be scream?) of consciousness.

Not coincidentally, it's also one of the few tracks in which Cave actually sings, and it's interesting to compare his vocals here with the crooning style he eventually developed. He's a lot more awkward and hesitant here, as if not really sure what to do when confronted with an actual melody. But that's part of its charm.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Killing Joke - Follow the Leaders

The great indie music of the '80s wasn't all pop, of course. The genre known (for lack of a better term) as post-punk also produced some exceptional recordings. Killing Joke wouldn't be among my favourites, exactly, but they did have their moments and this was certainly one of them: sonically riveting, with lyrics that struck me at the time as a lot more profound than they probably were, it's music that simply refuses to loiter in the background and let you go about your business as if it wasn't there.

I was too young at the time to appreciate how innovative this really was, particularly the juxtaposition of drum machine and thundering tribal drums. It's an unfortunate legacy that many of those who did appreciate it went on to create the appalling industrial metal genre, but that's not Killing Joke's fault, I don't think.

Seriously, just listen to these drums.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Bodines - Therese

You're probably either a C86 fan or you aren't, but I would genuinely be unable to fathom how anyone with a modicum of taste could fail to like this one. Simply put, it's a stormer. It's everything you want from a three minute pop song and I will never, ever, ever tire of it.

I'm also a sucker for a snappy lyric, and this song is full of them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Game Theory - The Red Baron

Like Felt, Game Theory put out a ton of material in the 1980s of vastly uneven quality, but in their best moments they produced some of the catchiest California pop you'll ever hear. Although I've seen them described as "influential", I'm not really sure on whom because I think in my life I've met maybe three or four people who actually owned anything by them. They had only one song that could vaguely be called a hit - "Erica's Word", which I at least heard on the radio a few times on its release. I might post that later, because it's really good.

But for now, here's an early track which marvelously showcases what Scott Miller often referred to as his "miserable whine", and what I used to think were the sweetest most romantic lyrics ever. When I was 15, mind.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Felt - Primitive Painters

Felt were, for me, a deeply frustrating band. At their height (the first two EPs and Poem of the River) they made music so shimmeringly beautiful it nearly hurt to listen to at times. Their more straightforward pop records were much more of a mixed bag; a lot of great tunes, but quite a bit of banality as well and let's face it, some of the lyrics were nothing short of awful. And the less said about their forays into cocktail jazz the better.

Still, the sheer quality of much of their material - from the Maurice Deebank era in particular - has ensured their place in Legendary Indie Band heaven, and for those records alone I'll still refer to them as one of my all-time favourites.

This is probably their best known tune thanks to Liz Fraser's backing vocals, but as usual it's Maurice's guitar that does it for me.