Friday, May 29, 2009

The Beat - Too Nice to Talk To

There's been a lot of 2-Tone talk recently because of the Specials reunion, so here's one of my own favourites from that era. Enjoy it - I'll be back after the Bank Holiday.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Teardrop Explodes - Colours Fly Away

Here's one from the Teardrops' difficult second album, Wilder. In all honesty I've barely listened to this album over the years - it's always struck me as so markedly inferior to the debut, I just don't have any reason to put it on when I'm in a Teardroppy mood. Looking around the web, though, I see it seems to get mostly good reviews from everyone else so perhaps I will give it another try.

Surprised to discover they made a video for this. I don't know why that should surprise me, but it does.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Small Factory - Hopefully

Small Factory were, in the early 1990s, the Happiest Band in the World (TM). With their breezy pop melodies and gorgeous male/female harmonies (the latter provided by improbably-named drummer Phoebe Summersquash, who everyone and I mean everyone fell in love with), they charmed the US indiepop scene like no band of that era that I can recall. When they finally called it a day around 1995, their goodbye gig was filled with fans who had travelled from far and wide for the occasion. I know because I was one of them.

You'll have to take my word for it how great they were, unfortunately, because their recordings were never a patch on their live show.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vic Reeves - Vienna

Just for fun, here's one from the 1992 compilation Ruby Trax, released by NME to celebrate its 40th year of publication. It was a three-CD collection of covers - most of which were a lot more faithful than this one!

I'm actually a really big fan of the original (despite not caring much for Ultravox generally), but this version does make me laugh.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Comsat Angels - Independence Day

The Comsat Angels were one of those second-tier British bands who inhabited the space between post-punk and new wave in the early 1980s, never achieving the superstardom of the Bunnymen while still managing to release one or two singles that everybody around at the time remembers.

This was their best song and biggest hit. I saw Voice of the Beehive play a cover of it once, for whatever that's worth.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Big Heifer - Flowers in our Hair

Here's one from the soundtrack of a mid-1990s film called Half-Cocked - a fictionalised piece about an indie band on tour, although not quite as Spinal Tap as that sounds. I don't remember it too well; I think it was one of those films that was cool at the time because of all the indie rock stars in it. But not exactly Cannes Film Festival material.

I know nothing whatsoever about Big Heifer, apart from this song, which I think is the best thing on the album.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gray Matter - Fill a Void

I don't know much about emo, and have been pretty underwhelmed by most of what I've heard. But some of the original, DC-based "emocore" bands (although none of them would have ever described themselves as such) were pretty good. Rites of Spring were of course the quintessential example, but their music, if not their lyrics, was fairly straightforward hardcore punk; most of the other bands had a much poppier sound and it's at least arguable that they, more than Rites of Spring, are the ones who paved the way for the radio-friendly adaptation of the genre that followed. But, whatever.

Nowadays when you read about the DC "emocore" scene (sorry, I just can't use that word without scare quotes) it's usually Rites of Spring and Embrace who are identified as the key players but my own memory of the era is that Gray Matter were the #2 band. Their music hasn't aged as well as Rites of Spring's has, but I still like this one a lot.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Boyracer - Denatured

Boyracer were on Sarah for a while, although you'd never know it from their music. This is actually one of the more Sarah-esque tracks from their Sarah recordings, and as you can see, that's not really saying much.

Stewart Anderson's voice is a bit of an acquired taste, and overall they strike me as fitting in more with American indie rock than British indiepop. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

This is from the EP Pure Hatred 96, which was actually released in 1994, I think.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

R.E.M. - Gardening at Night

R.E.M. have been so massive for so long it would probably never occur to some people that they ever were an obscure indie band, but I'd say that at least until the late 1980s I knew a lot more people who hadn't heard of them than who had.

Their early recordings were beautiful, with soft, virtually impenetrable vocals and Byrdsy guitars. After Reckoning they pretty much lost me, as Michael Stipe's voice became harsh and raspy and they started writing rubbishy songs like "Everybody Hurts". But this, from their first EP, is just gorgeous ... still.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Blur - Mace

Looking at my CD collection now I'm kind of amazed at how many Blur singles I have. I mean, I'm not a CD singles collector generally - for some reason, I just don't really like them, which is odd because I used to love collecting 7"s. Maybe it's because I used to love collecting 7"s and I just find CD singles a really inferior substitute. Not for any rational reason that I can think of - I'm not one of these vinyl fetishists generally; I'm quite happy not having my music skip all over the place when I'm listening to it and if I had as many LPs as I have CDs I'd need a much bigger house. But still, I'd buy a 7" over a CD single any time. And I don't buy many CD singles at all, even if there's no 7" available, and never have. Yet for some reason I have just about every CD single Blur released in the mid 1990s. What was I thinking?

I did like Blur, though, and still do. And some of their B-sides were quite good, such as this one, from "Popscene".

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Crass - You're Already Dead

I was speaking recently of anarcho-punk so here's one by the ultimate anarcho-punk band. A lot of Crass's stuff is really unlistenable to me today - I know it was pretty unlistenable to a lot of people always - but to their credit at least they were never hesitant about experimenting with styles that diverged quite significantly from a generic punk sound. A bit like Chumbawamba in that respect, although Chumba's divergence was usually in the direction of increased listenability while Crass's was usually the other way ...

The significance of this one, for those who care about such things, is that it seems to indicate a change in philosophy from their previous "Don't want your revolution, I want anarchy and peace" stance. It was their final single, though, so it's hard to be sure where they would have ended up.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Auteurs - Underground Movies

The Auteurs pushed a lot of my buttons. Whiney vocals? Check. Snappy lyrics? Galore. Attitude? My god, did they have attitude. Although despite the miserable misanthropic cynical bastard persona, Luke Haines actually came across quite friendly and cheerful on the two occasions I had to see them live. I've since been told, however, that I must have just caught him on a couple of (rare) good days. Whatever. The Auteurs were genius, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

I always wondered why he picked Baltimore as the location for this song. If anyone knows, do tell.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Haircut 100 - Fantastic Day

A recent thread called What song converted you? over on the alternative/indie forum of got me thinking about this one. I don't know that any particular song "converted" me, although maybe I've just forgotten after all these years! What I remember is that when I was in my tweens, and already an obsessive musichead, a number of New Wave bands began breaking the stranglehold that MOR, AOR and rawk held on the airwaves and that I immediately took to this intriguing genre.

Haircut 100 were, of course, one of the breakthrough bands of that era and if I was able to put together a list of records that "converted" me their debut would definitely be on it. I know it sounds terribly lightweight and fluffy today - actually, it probably did then, too, but what did I know? I was 12 - but you have to admit it's catchy as hell. And just look at Nick Heyward's adorable cheeky grin. Is it any wonder I loved this band. I think not.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturn V - Hour of Pure Sorrow

Here's a great little tune, from a great little band, on a great little EP that nobody I know has. Besides me, of course. Aren't I cool?

Saturn V were more a project than a band - one of many spinoffs from the delightful Razorcuts, and sounding pretty much exactly like them. Really, it's almost impossible to tell them apart. And that's not a bad thing at all.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Autour de Lucie - Ce Que L'On Tait

French indiepop! Not something you hear very often. Unless, I suppose, you're French. Most of the lyrics are in French, too, which is something I admire, being a determinedly anti-imperialist (linguistic or otherwise) sort. Bands from non-Anglophone countries shouldn't feel they have to sing in English just to get people to listen to them.

Anyway, you certainly don't need to understand what they're saying to be utterly captivated by Valérie Leulliot's sweet voice, and guitars that ring out like something from Scottish pop's 1980s' heyday.

I assume there must have been others like this where they came from, and deeply regret the fact that I don't know.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Television Personalities - La Grande Illusion

Here's another cult band who's put out about 150 albums that hardly anyone buys. The TV Personalities aren't exactly one of my favourites - they're a little too self-consciously ironic at times, and the constant name dropping gets tiresome. But you have to admire them (or, really, him) for hanging in there all these years.

This song isn't particularly typical of their style; it's more in keeping with the classic sort of English indie rock of the very early 1980s, which probably explains why it's my favourite of theirs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Band of Holy Joy - Tactless

The Band of Holy Joy were a treasure - a band that hovered under the radar (well under the radar, to be honest) for a number of years, putting out great records which were cheerfully ignored by just about everyone. They didn't fit neatly into any particular scene, and while it was easy enough to come up with a few bands they kind of resembled - the Pogues, the Mekons, Dexy's maybe, with a bit of Brel and Brecht thrown in - I think they were just too idiosyncratic for the music business to know what to do with. This means, of course, that they had a small but obsessive cult following, of which I was (and remain!) a card-carrying member.

This is one of their more straightforward pop songs, from the 1989 classic Manic, Magic, Majestic - possibly the most accurately-named album ever! It's a simple and catchy tune, but Johny Brown's marvelously evocative lyrics shine through nonetheless.

Incidentally, they've recently reformed and are gigging around London. Don't miss them this time!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Snapper - Buddy

If I wanted to turn someone onto indiepop just by pointing them to a particular label, it would probably be Flying Nun. I'd rate it higher than any other label in terms of the consistent quality of its output over the years - Creation and Sarah put out the occasional dud, even in their heyday, but Flying Nun never really did. Also, while I can sort of understand why people with (otherwise) decent taste might find some Sarah stuff a bit too … well … twee for their liking, Flying Nun just did great pop music.

Now having said that, here's one that isn't quite the pure pop the label was famous for. Snapper were one of their weirder bands - the love child Brian Wilson and Alan Vega might have had. They didn't release much, which is probably just as well because I think this sound would have got tiresome fairly quickly, though it's great in small doses. This is from their self-titled debut EP and is probably their best-known track.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Boo Radleys - Take the Time Around

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I don't really care much for Giant Steps. It's just too much of Martin Carr and co. faffing about in the studio, too little emphasis on songwriting. And to my ears it lacks the delicate soundscaping which made Everything's Alright Forever such a pleasure to listen to over and over. Instead, it feels like you're supposed to be impressed by how many neat tricks they can pull off with the technical equipment, and I just don't find that very interesting.

The lyrics throughout the album also sound suspiciously as if they were pilfered from the self-help section of Martin's library - never a good sign.

Still, it is an indie classic whether I agree with that designation or not, so here's one of the less arsey tracks off it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Chumbawamba - Behave!

You probably can't write anything about Chumbawamba without mentioning "Tubthumping", so let's get that out of the way first. OK, it was annoying and overly commercial and not necessarily the most intelligent lyric ever written. It was also pretty catchy, and I quite liked it at first, although it was obviously a little bit overexposed.

Anyway, forget about it. Chumba had been making fantastic records for well over a decade before that rather unfortunate brush with megastardom. I first encountered them some time around 1985, when a friend copied one of their demo tapes for me. At the time I was listening to a lot of anarcho-punk but of course I was still a pop kid at heart and they blended the two sounds in a way that few other bands have managed so well. I admired their refusal to be stuck in a box, either musically or politically; and on the latter point I also appreciated the fact that they didn't overlook the Irish conflict - unlike so many of their associates in the English punk scene, who were happy to condemn their government's atrocities everywhere else in the world but ignored it in their own backyard.

I saw Chumba here in Dublin last year - amazingly, only the second time I've seen them in their long career - and they were as inspiring as ever. Their 2008 album The Boy Bands Have Won isn't the best thing they've ever done, IMHO, but at least it should silence anyone who still thinks they've sold out.

Here's one of the highlights of their "dance" phase, from 1992's Shhh.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Acetone - 99

Acetone were sort of a successor band to the 1980s Paisley Underground scene: SoCal-based, heavily psychedelia-influenced, seemingly permanently stoned (and probably more appealing to listen to if you were, too. Not that I'd know. Ahem.) They put out a few decent albums that never really went anywhere; in truth the only reason I know them is because they were on Vernon Yard, who were very generous with their free samplers at the time. Damn, I miss that job.

This is one of the few kind of up-tempo tracks from their second album, If You Only Knew, which sounds like they were listening to early-70s Pink Floyd a lot.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blue in Heaven - In Your Eyes

Here's another Irish band that not many people outside Ireland know, although for a brief spell they did seem on the verge of hitting the big time. Their debut album All the Gods' Men, which I like a lot, suffers a bit from not knowing exactly what it wants to be; Martin Hannett produced it and gave it an inevitable Joy Division feel but in some places it comes across all slick and Steve Lillywhite. I can't help feeling that this would have been a much better record if it had been made on a really small budget with some local unknown at the helm.

If you did hear anything from this album it was probably either "Julie Cries", the single, or "Sometimes", which seems to be the consensus highlight. I think this is the song that has aged the best, though.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Simple Minds - Glittering Prize

Simple Minds are one of those bands that simply stuck around too long. I think that all but their most diehard fans would agree with this - but the rest of us would probably disagree on when they should have called it a day. Personally I love this era, all the synths and New Romanticy eyemakeup and stuff; but then again that's the Simple Minds that were around when I first started listening to what we now call alternative music (what did we call it then? I can never remember) and, hence, the first Simple Minds I knew. I can certainly understand why fans of their earlier, somewhat darker material might have considered this unacceptably mainstream.

In thinking about it, I actually find it hard to believe this was 1982.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Joni Mitchell - All I Want

Here's another one in the "where we came from" category. Joni was always a favourite of mine, thanks to my mother's good taste, but she often seems to suffer from a lack of appreciation from indiepopsters, even those who regularly sing the praises of her associates Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. Which I'm sure has nothing to do with her being a woman.

This is the lovely track that leads off the album Blue and pretty much defines it for me. As always with Joni, it's worth listening to for the guitar alone. And of course so much more.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Momus - Eleven Executioners

Momus is a weird one. Quite a lot of people I know can't stand him, and I fully understand why. His songs are pretentious, self-indulgent and generally skeevy... and those adjectives seem to describe him pretty accurately as a person, too. Nonetheless, I kinda like him, or his songs at least. As I've said before, I'm a sucker for a snappy lyric and love him or hate him, you can't deny that he has a way with words.

Here's one of my favourites, from his second album The Poison Boyfriend.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Primal Scream - Shine Like Stars

I have to admit I think this album is overrated. In fact, I think Primal Scream themselves have always been overrated (with the exception of the wonderful "Velocity Girl", which is every bit the indiepop classic it's alleged to be). When Screamadelica came out and got a 10 in NME I remember thinking that if they'd put out an album of reading names from the phone book it would have got a 10 from the NME. That was just the relationship between them and NME at the time; it had nothing to do with the actual album.

All these years on and I haven't changed my mind. It's got some nice moments, sure, and shows them to be reasonably adept at a number of different styles, but there just aren't many Truly Great Songs on it. Obviously it's a classic as a snapshot of its era, but that doesn't make me want to listen to it any more than any other album of that year (and in fact there were a lot of albums that year I'd rather listen to than this one).

So why am I posting this? Because, having said all that, I absolutely love this song and wish they'd done more along these lines. More's the pity that they went precisely the opposite direction, but of course, I'm not exactly the fan they wanted to appeal to anyway.