Wednesday 30 March 2011

Pass the smelling salts, please! (Crystal Stilts)

On Monday I wrote:

"I have every confidence that their new l.p. "In Love With Oblivion" will soundtrack the blossom and newness of spring 2011 for me."

That was before this burst into my life and confirmed it!

It's just as well I hadn't heard the record before Sunday's show as I would've almost certainly been knocked out cold by "Precarious Stair" and the strident, unrelenting "Invisible City" at the very least.  I'm feelin' a little dazed by "In Love With Oblivion", if truth be told; it's that good.  If I owned 11 cd players and had 11 copies of this cd I'd pickle my head by playing every track simultaneously over and over again in a nonsensical bid to assimilate its every nuance quicker.  Sometimes recklessness and folly are the only responses to brilliance.

Monday 28 March 2011

How Weekends Should be Pt.2 : Stilts and Stains

Yesterday's Monorail Film Club presentation of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains provided a welcome reminder of the brilliance of Christine Lahti.  She's by no means the focus of the film but her brief contributions as Aunt Linda, the bereaved mother and aunt of the members of girl-punk novices The Stains, are subtle and at one point, eye-moisteningly moving.  She first sneaked into my affections through her role as  River Phoenix's on-the-run mother in the wonderfully tender Running On Empty;  a film which somehow manages to retain its emotional impact no matter how many times I watch it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains was hugely enjoyable and had me mulling over just how in the 30 years since its release, I'd managed not to hear peep about it till now despite it featuring Ray Winstone, a couple of Sex Pistols, a Clash member and the teenage Diane Lane and Laura Dern. It sure made me keen to dig out those ace old Bikini Kill and Bangs records!

The precise second the GFT's house-lights came up, it was time for a swift dash downhill to The Arches to catch as much of Golden Grrrls' (untidy!) set as possible before enjoying Crystal Stilts.  Despite keyboard amp troubles and an extended capo-break ("Enjoy it - it only happens once!"Crystal Stilts were on terrific form.  JB Townsend's teardrop-shaped guitar made even choppier, treblier incisions than ever before and Andy Adler's bass made explicit the instruction to dance, an instruction that, excitingly, was heeded by several young ladies in front of me.  Don't you just love it when dancing breaks out at shows?  If I had a ballroom I'd book 'em!  I have every confidence that their new l.p. "In Love With Oblivion" will soundtrack the blossom and newness of spring 2011 for me.

How Weekends Should be Pt.1 : The Monochrome Set

Had you been listening-in as I walked home on Saturday night you would've thought me very confused.  One minute I was singing about being "a woman one more time", the next about "a very peculiar boy".  It was one of those late-night ambles along the south bank of the Clyde where all the great songs you've heard earlier vie for lip time.  Like some dream Jive Bunny mega-mix Subway Sect segued into Joan Jett and The Blackhearts and Jacques Dutronc into Bettye Swann.  It's fair to say that Stephen Pastel killed it on the decks; one of those evenings when the records in the DJ's box were gloriously congruent with the needs of the people.  Even the PA did its bit by being crisp and at just the right volume.  The one song I wanted to sing to myself was this (I think!) Sister Sledge tune but I couldn't because, well, unlike most folks at Mono, I didn't know the words - something I'll rectify soon:

Excitingly, The Monochrome Set, Monochrome Set, Monochrome Set were every bit as suave as I had hoped.  Guitarist Lester Square even arrived on stage with an extravagant pipe (not lit, of course, in this era of the smoking ban!) hanging below his waxed moustache.  They had a nice balance of solemnity (black clad bassist, Andy Warren and Square) and smiles (singer Bid and drummer Jennifer Denitto) which mirrored the arty/playful duality of their music.  Lester Square's guitar playing was something special, existing at the exact meeting point of The Shadows' twang-axis with The Velvet Underground's gallop-axis.  I'm no aficionado (unlike, I'm guessing, Alex Kapranos who bashfully joined them during the encore) but I recognised a fair few singles as featured on "Volume, Contrast, Brilliance...(Sessions and Singles Vol. 1)" and, maybe predictably, "Jet Set Junta" was my highlight.

Somehow, a while has passed since I last saw Wake The President and in the meantime it would appear that they've acquired a Hardy Boy on bass.  I've certainly seen them cheerier but seldom zestier.  They rattled through a bunch of new songs that augured well for their next l.p. and "Miss Tierney" stilll sounded like a winner.

A fine evening!

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Wimp Scuzz

A recent Monorail Records tweet described a record by The Mystery Meat as "wimp scuzz".  What a great expression!  I gotta say, "wimp scuzz" is the kinda genre I could really get behind.  Actually, I think I'm already up to my eyeballs in it!  Here are some fine practitioners of the craft as I understand it:

The Bachs "Free Fall"
(Monorail mentioned this smashing group in their tweet)

Index "Eight Miles High"

The Mystery Meat "Give Me Your Love"
(the wimp scuzz archetypes!)

The Dovers "What Am I Going To Do?"
(the Misty Lane 10" is WONDROUS!)

The definitive wimp scuzz compilation:

Monday 21 March 2011

Terminal Boredom Week Pt. 2: The Mantles / Nodzzz (19/03/2011)

After Glasgow's maddening no-show at Wednesday's Tyvek gig it was a relief to walk into Nice'n'Sleazy to find that a decent crowd had assembled for the visit of San Franciscans The Mantles and Nodzzz*. Up first (for me, there were two other groups that I missed, oops!) were The Mantles whose sound on vinyl I've described as 'tough jangle'; not quite pounding enough to be called garage-rock but a little too chunky for the jangly pop tag. Live, however, they were definitely the epitome of glistening, pristine guitar pop.  In what is almost a radical move in these overloaded days, the guitars were turned down a notch and the vocals pushed up a little.  It really worked, too.  Songs like "Lily Never Married", new single "Raspberry Thighs" and the head-spinningly beautiful "Don't Lie" were able to breathe unencumbered by the need to be blisteringly loud. I've seldom heard prettier guitars.  What a group!  Nodzzz acquitted themselves well, too; drainpipe tight and again with clean guitars.  They complained of being continually labelled as 'scuzz or fuzz rockers' which is understandable when their guitars are so crisp and undistorted. A good party band, they had folks bobbing to "In The City" and especially "I Don't Wanna Smoke Marijuana".  At times they put me in mind of XTC (surprisingly) or a less jittery Violent Femmes (less surprisingly).  A great night got even better when it was pointed out that the merchandising table had both the aforementioned new Mantles single and Ducl-i-tone's welcome reissue of notorious Dundonian D.I.Y.ers The Scrotum Poles' ridiculously rare "Revelation" single.  Now, that's a Saturday night!

* This is despite the fact that The Babies, who most likely appeal to exactly the same audience, were playing across town.  Some brave folks attempted to see both shows. I'm glad I didn't, though, as they ended up missing The Mantles.  It's just a shame that they couldn't all appear on the same bill.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Sorrow "Let There Be Thorns"

In almost 100% of cases, I'll enjoy a group or artist's most immediate pop moments best.  It's all about instant thrills and momentary abandon, succinctness, I guess.  With Rose McDowall, however, it's a little different.  I remember as a wee boy in my pyjamas watching Strawberry Switchblade on Saturday morning kids tv and utterly adoring them: the way they looked, their voices, "Since Yesterday" and, of course, the polka dots.  When, as part of Spell, she sang on an album of dark pop 60s pop covers I lapped that up, too, especially "Terry" and "Down From Dover".  Then nothing; I just lost touch.  I was totally unaware of her group Sorrow during most of their lifetime which, according to Wikipedia, was from about '93 to '02.  Then, in July '07, Rose and her group played in the little Railwayman's church at the inaugural Indietracks and stole the festival with an unforgettable, intensely moving set of McDowall's own songs and Jesus and Mary Chain and The Velvet Underground covers.  It was then that I heard Sorrow's "Let There Be Thorns".  It's not my favourite McDowall lyric - it's maybe a little too mystical for that - but her voice never sounded better or sadder and the melody once heard is never forgotten.  When it's playing, it somehow wraps itself around you and then when it finishes you feel a little altered, a little funny in that way that psychological horror films make you feel a bit wonky for a few minutes afterwards. Truly extraordinary.  If Madonna could have a world-wide smash with "Frozen", it's not unthinkable that, had it benefitted from the same level of exposure, "Let There Be Thorns" could have been embraced and loved by a whole lot more people. 

On both the cdep and 7" version of "Let There Be Thorns", there's a more stripped-back version called "A Garland From The Moon" which is equally affecting.  Recently, Rose has been selling still-sealed copies of the cdep on ebay under the username cakeknife18.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Thanks for checking this train-wreck

Tonight's Tyvek set at The Captain's Rest reminded me of the few times I went to the climbing wall as I appeared to be suffering from sewing-machine leg for most of it.  Songs whizzed by with barely a gap for the (shamefully sparse - come on  Glasgow you can do better than that!) audience to show its appreciation, my legs shaking furiously all the while to the primal beat.  It was worth my £7 alone just to hear the rendition of "Mary Ellen Claims" but, really, for a band who professed to being 'frazzled' by touring, their whole set was a total joy.  The songs from their most recent lp, "Nothing Fits" (In The Red), sounded much less angry but no less brilliant when played by such a charming, sweet seeming group.  Former single "Sidewalk", which features what must be the best use of the word 'infrastructure' ever in a song, was played twice at different speeds; both versions great, of course.  Touring mates Pheromoans were similarly impressive.  Like, I assume, just about everyone who has ever clapped eyes on them I thought of The Fall first.  After that first impression, however, names like Swell Maps, Performing Ferrets and a raft of other more obscure acts from that heroic period of British music covered so comprehensively and lovingly by the Messthetics series, came to mind.  One of the guitarists wore the most improbable trousers - all scarlet streamers - and the worst sci-fi t-shirt I've seen in many a year; proper local market tat!  I have a feeling that the singles I bought after the show (one of which includes the wonderful "Slime Days" which shone tonight) are going to sound great alongside recent releases by The Sticks and Kitchen's Floor.


Wednesday 16 March 2011


Every day my commute to work takes me past a road sign for Blackburn, West Lothian. Recently, that sign's been a daily reminder to snap up Blackburn Recordings' lp from New York's Sweet Bulbs when it finally shows up in Scottish stores.  Blackburn Recordings scored big round these parts last year with Big Troubles' zinging "Freudian Slips" and Sweet Bulbs are set to do the same.  Their My Bloody Valentine by way of the Lilys (Slumberland / Spin Art era) / The Swirlies sound was always going to set this heart racing and my mind casting back over giddy days spent reading and re-reading each new issue of Chickfactor with Parasol Records' printed updates close at hand.  Sigh, I miss circling too many records in red biro and then whittling them down to a barely affordable few based largely on Pam Berry, Gail O'Hara and their pals' reviews.  Great days, those.

(looks like Forte Distribution have picked it up for the UK)

Tuesday 15 March 2011

When In Rome: Soul Food Records

If you follow the blue line to right of the cars in the picture above, your eyes will end up alighting on a tiny Colosseum.  There can't be many record shops in the world in a better location than Rome's Soul Food.  If my bank account (and baggage limit!) had permitted it, I could've gone a bit loopy nuts in this rather fine store.  Their vinyl racks were bursting at the seams - they really could do with a bigger shop! - with decidedly well-chosen titles both new and second-hand.  It's good to know that Rome's popkids have somewhere local to go for the latest Slumberland, Captured Tracks, M'lady's etc. waxings.  As it was I could only justify springing for a few 7"s from their new arrivals section and that smashing Boys Club single on Bachelor from a couple of years back.  Added plus points are awarded to Soul Food for having the good taste to spin Beat Happening's "Black Candy" when I was browsing and for releasing a rather splendid Black Time single a couple of years back.  Well worth a visit when ya need a break from the antiquities!

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Vic Godard and Subway Sect in Scotland (soon!)

11th March: Glasgow @ The Accies Club (with The Sexual Objects & Wake The President)
12th March: Edinburgh @ The Citrus Club (with The Sexual Objects)
13th March: Dundee @ Dexter's (with Spectorbullets and Edinburgh School for the Deaf)

 (there are a bunch of English dates, too. Information here)

Not long now!  If Vic and co.'s recent album "We Come As Aliens" (cd via Overground / vinyl self-released and available at shows and Monorail in Glasgow) tells us anything, it's that these shows are going to unmissable.  It's scarcely imaginable how "We Come As Aliens" could have turned out any better: Vic is in wonderful, wayward voice, the current Subway Sect sound committed and cohesive (if only these guys could be recruited to help Lawrence of Felt/Denim realise something similarly brilliant) and the songs made it onto tape with the bulk of the energy and feeling intact.  Looking back on it, 2010 was a landmark year for that little group of kindred spirits comprising Vic, Davy Henderson and Edwyn Collins, with all three - Davy with his group The Sexual Objects - releasing vital and relevant lps.  It's genuinely exciting to have them all active and producing such great work.  I'd be letting myself down if I didn't make at least one of the Scottish shows!