It’s A Bear!

I’ve never been wholly convinced by the whole Animal Collective crowd. Whilst contemporaries like Grizzly Bear are suffused with warmth and humanity, I’ve always been left cold by AC/Panda Bear. However, I’m slowly starting to thaw after hearing Panda Bear‘s B-side to his new single, a track entitled “Slow Motion”. A slow motion Panda Bear, how sweet is that?

The lazy ska-esque rhythm, dubby echoed vocals and general feeling of slight melancholy makes me wistful of those great ’80’s pioneers On-U Sound. I might even pay the new album a bit more attention than I otherwise would have done. It’s out in September, by the way.

Apologies for the somewhat terse post; I’ve got rather a lot on at the moment and I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to post over the coming week or so. If you’d like to subscribe, please enter your email address in the “Email Subscription” box over on the right, or subscribe via Feedburner here. Either way, it’s much better than popping back here every few days only to discover I’m still a lazy arse.

MP3: Slow Motion by Panda Bear

Amazon’s Panda Bear Store

Tonight I’m Shoegazing On My Favourite Island

What with the likes of Galaxie 500 re-releasing old records, My Bloody Valentine doing sporadic live shows, and newer bands like School Of Seven Bells releasing dreamy psychedelic pop, you could say Shoegaze is making something of a revival. When I say revival, I of course mean Shoegaze has come shuffling in, mumbled something about it being too early and there’s too much light coming through the curtains, and then shuffled off again.

Along come new Bella Union act I Break Horses1 with a demo of their new track “Wired”. As a commenter on Soundcloud states, it’s certainly got a tinge of late-’80’s 4AD act Lush. No bad thing, of course. Bella Union certainly seem to be going through a purple patch at the moment, what with Department of Eagles, Wavves, Midlake, The Kissaway Trail, Beach House and loads of other great bands on their roster. Nice to see Simon Raymonde keeping himself busy, rather than spending his time looking over at Robin Guthrie thinking “I wish he’d lay off the coke”.

Those of you wondering where this lot got such an odd name from can check out this remarkably worrying song by Loft and Lost favourites Smog, here:

Cheery, eh? Written about at some length here, in case you’re interested, which you’re probably not. Anyway, I Break Horses look like a good tip for the future, don’t they?

I Break Horses – Wired by Bella Union

Soundcloud: Wired (demo) by I Break Horses

MP3: I Break Horses (Peel Session) by Smog

(Note: this post is a little bit of a test of whether Soundcloud links post correctly in Hype Machine. Not even remotely interesting, unless you’re a music blogger. And it’s not even that interesting if you are, in fairness)

Amazon’s Smog Store (I Really Have Seen It All Now)

1 Holy crap, I just realised they are Swedish. For fuck’s sake.

While We’re Hungover

One of the tracks I’ve been meaning to post for the best part of a month now is from the new Department of Eagles archive CD that’s out on Monday (on the wonderful Bella Union in the UK). As if you didn’t already now, Department of Eagles is Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear‘s other band, formed with college friend Fred Nicolaus back in the day. The archive compilation, cunningly entitled “Archive 2003 – 2006”, features demos, outtakes, sketches, and the like, showing the development of their sound from bedroom mucking about to the baroque-pop symphonies they now specialise in.

And here it is: “While We’re Young”. It’s good. I’ve got a hangover and I don’t think I can really write anything more sensible now. Is complaining about a hangover at 8pm a clever thing to be doing? Then again, is drinking six pints of Old Bastard’s Happiness Facilitator a clever thing to be doing?

MP3: While We’re Young by Department Of Eagles

Buy “Archive: 2003-2006” (CD)

Super Sunny Song

I realised the other day, writing about Best Coast, that I’ve mentioned Joy Zipper at least three times in this blog but never written about them properly. Or at all. I’m not going to write much about them now, either, but as I’ve been reminded of their wonderfully drowsy take on psych-dream-pop, I’m going to remedy it by posting one of their songs, hoping that people will listen to it and go “Where have you been all my life?” like Barney Gumble discovering beer.

They don’t seem to have been up to a huge amount in the past couple of years, other than marrying each other (the band being the ludicrously good-looking Tabitha Tindale and Vincent Cafiso). Hopefully they’ll get their act together soon and start writing some more of their dreamy-poppy-psych-bubblegum-pop, or whatever the genre is.

See What I Mean?

Perfect for those hot summer days, eh?

MP3: 33x by Joy Zipper

Buy “American Whip” (CD/MP3)

Super Sunny Sunday

Gosh, it’s warm here. Possibly even teetering on the edge of being hot. This is most unusual for London, what with the normal weather being cold, rainy, sometimes slightly warmer with light drizzle, with the occasional snowstorm to make things interesting. In June.

So to celebrate this rather nice weather, here’s some sunny music. Best Coast. Video has Ronald McDonald, but not, of course.

Lovely, isn’t it? In a livelier Beach House/Joy Zipper kinda way. Right, World Cup Final awaits us, come on you Oranges! Well, Van Pershie.

MP3: When I’m With You by Best Coast

Pre-Order “Crazy for You: Limited Edition” (CD)

The Pitchfork 500 Great American Noise – Replacement Acid

Noise. Anger. Rage. Being a bit drunk. Big dollops of “fuck you” attitude. All this, and more, feature in this instalment of The Pitchfork 5001. Cue guitar intro.

The Replacements – Bastards of Young
Big Black – Kerosene
Scratch Acid – The Greatest Gift

We last saw The Replacements singing about trying to hook up with some poor, unsuspecting lady in “I Will Dare” (off an album that also featured the charmingly titled “Gary’s Got A Boner”). The Replacements ouevre generally centred around beer, drinking beer, trying to get more beer, trying to hook up whilst on beer, feeling terrible because of all that beer they were drinking, and the band themselves were clearly fans of, err, beer. However, the Reagan administration was clearly playing on Paul Westerberg’s mind, and “Bastards of Young” was their anthem to the lost generation – the proto Gen-X’ers – of the mid ’80’s. The lyrics are a resigned paean to youth that had little hope and even lesser chances of breaking out into the sunny world promised to them by Reagonomics:

The ones that love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest/And visit their graves on holidays at best/The ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please

The band, normally mucking around drunk in the background, provide sterling backing to Westerberg’s heartfelt lyrics. The video was great too. I dimly recall seeing this on Beavis and Butthead (“Smash it! SMASH IT!”), but as all the copies I could find had embedding disabled, you’ll just have to look yourself. In the meantime, enjoy this live version:

The song became a minor hit, though in true Replacements style, even when they got onto “Saturday Night Live”, they still ballsed it up by turning up drunk and then compounded the issue by swearing on-air. This was to be their fate; a great, ramshackle band hampered by their own inability to knuckle down and stop using being in a band as an excuse to get drunk.

Big Black were another thing entirely. When I was a teenager, Big Black were the nasty, screwed-up band from the mid-West who hated you personally and wanted you to know it. Big Black were the one-stop shop for songs about all the unpleasant things in life. Mainman Steve Albini in particular had a particularly gnarly reputation; he deliberated set out to antagonise the liberal media and boy, did he succeed (to the extent that he went on to form the even more charmingly titled Rapeman). But, for one reason or another, I never really listened to any of their stuff.

One Of These Men Is Now A Lawyer

So, during the opening bars of “Kerosene” I thought “Hey, what’s with the scratchy, funk-punk guitars? Maybe everyone was just getting their knickers in a twist and this lot were just a bunch of pussycats”. Then the churning drum machine kicked in, and the full horror of The World Of Big Black came into terrible view. Boy, is this one fucked up song. I’ve listened to Shellac, some of those hundreds of albums he’s produced, and even some Rapeman stuff, but nothing quite prepared me for how beautifully deranged this band were in their prime.

The lyrics start off with a fairly bog-standard moan about how life in a small town sucks, dude. But slowly the protagonist starts to unravel, starts going on about arson, and then goes downhill from there. As Albini said, there’s nothing much to do in small Mid-Western towns aside from sex and arson, so why not mix the two? The backing, a carefully calibrated and uncompromisingly nasty noise, thunders away quite unpleasantly, and much higher in the mix than on normal records. This is an Albini trademark, making you aurally squint to hear the words properly, sucking you into the dark world he’s created.

The guitars are all angular and scratchy, a sound made by using serrated metal picks for that fingernails-on-the-blackboard vibe. “Kerosene” is widely regarded as their finest moment; I’m not sure whether it’s going to make me explore more of their back catalogue or if I should just enjoy this track on its own and leave the rest of their material in the seething pit of hell it inhabits. Listening to this is like eating a very, very hot curry – a wonderful combination of pain, terror and a strange kind of pleasure.

Another point that’s worth making in these days of confusion is how Big Black ran themselves. No contracts, no managers, no rider on tour, not even a drumkit (their drummer “Roland” being a Roland TR-606 drum machine), so they could just drive round in a normal car to gigs. The idea behind all this was to make themselves as profitable as possible, and to not get involved in any kind of record label control:

We were committed to to a few basic principles: Treat everyone with as much respect as he deserves (and no more), Avoid people who appeal to our vanity or ambition (they always have an angle), Operate as much as possible apart from the “music scene” (which was never our stomping ground), and Take no shit from anyone in the process (Steve Albini)

Might be useful to keep that in mind. On the eve of releasing their second album (“Songs About Fucking”), the band started to break; mounting pressures within the band, partly caused by bassist Dave Riley’s heavy drinking, and with Albini deciding that he’d done all he could do with the music, he broke them up. Guitarist Santiago Durango went on to be a lawyer. As you do2. As for Albini himself, well, he’s gone onto become possibly the most idiosyncratic producer since Martin Hannett.

Now, Scratch Acid I’d never heard of before. When I first listened to “The Greatest Gift”, I thought that it sounded remarkably like Jesus Lizard and the likes of Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion. The former is no shock; two of the band went on to form Jesus Lizard in 1989. As for the Blues Explosion, they dealt in the same kind of crazy, bluesy punk; lots of fun. At first I wondered why the hell this was here; after all, loads of other bands have dealt in the same kind of fucked-up noisy punk, and surely being one of Kurt Cobain’s wouldn’t be enough to include them. Then I realised – this lot were pioneers. Taking the psychobilly of The Cramps, mixing a good helping of Iggy and the Stooges and 13th Floor Elevators, their sound, ably demonstrated on “The Greatest Gift”, is one of delightedly screwed up noise.

Sometimes, even by being drunk and all messed up, you can be an original. The band split up, as bands do, and various members went on to form Rapeman with Steve Albini, Jesus Lizard, and all sorts of other bands, like some kind of mutating amoeba, spreading noise and weirdness wherever it went.

Next up, we’re back to the British Isles for a two-parter of some of the finest music on the whole list.

The rest of the Pitchfork articles are here.

1 For some reason, Pitchfork chose to chuck The Mekons in the middle of this sequence, followed by a bunch of British Indie Bands. To make for a more consistent set of articles, I’ve moved The Mekons to sit with JAMC, The Smiths etc in the next article.

2 Which is good, but still doesn’t beat James Williamson of The Stooges becoming a VP at Sony.

MP3: Bastards Of Young by The Replacements

MP3: Kerosene by Big Black

Buy “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was: the Best of the Replacements” (CD/MP3)

Amazon’s Big Black Store (yes, such a thing exists!)

The Pitchfork 500 Bombast – Kate Bush to Simple Minds

The ’80’s was the decade of bombast. Everything had to be loud, brash, obvious. Music pummelled you into submission. Music had something to tell you, and it told you with fervour, without respite. Two of the most brash, fervent bands are represented here, along with a third artist who wasn’t exactly shy of making statements in her music.

Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)
U2 – New Year’s Day
Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)

Following the huge success of “Wuthering Heights”, Kate Bush’s young life was turned upside down. The now-predictable tales of touring, promotion, enormous record company pressures and the like, eventually drove her to becoming something of a recluse. 1982’s “The Dreaming” had not been particularly successful, and three years later, after nothing more had been heard from her, NME ran a “Where Are They Now” feature on her. Somewhat inauspiciously, her new single was played on the radio three days later1.

That new single was “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)”. The song itself wasn’t new; written three years earlier just after “The Dreaming” sessions, her record company had refused to release it under its original title of “A Deal With God”, fearing an unwelcome reaction in religious countries. They should have just gone for it; the song hardly deals in blasphemy. Instead, Bush’s voice demands that God swaps places with her, not so she can be God, but for God to see life from her side. The determination in her voice is frightening; this isn’t the hippy-dippy teenager of her early records, but a steely, confident woman.

The music, all thundering drums and Fairlight stabs, was made without any thought to ever performing live. Multi-tracked vocals, including using her own voice as a rhythm track, synthesised strings from those all-new electronics; the record is, as you’d have expected from her, remarkably futuristic for a chart-topping artist. Although some of the keyboards do sound a little dated, the track as a whole feels minty-fresh.

And, despite the religious concerns, the song doesn’t feel heavy-handed. “If I only could/I’d make a deal with God/And get him to swap places” is a marvellous chorus, defiantly railing at a deity that had forsaken her. Lovely stuff and well worth listening to again.

Years ago, I remember someone asking Tony Wilson (sorry, Anthony H. Wilson) what Joy Division would have ended up like if Ian Curtis hadn’t killed himself. He replied “U2”. As ever, his daft response had a whacking great big element of truth in amongst the crazy talk. Because U2 were at the time a clever blend of Joy Division’s more lively moments mixed with Bruce Springsteen’s stadium savvy, with a huge chunk of Evangelical fervour thrown into the mix. And I use capitalisation deliberately there – never, ever forget that above all else, U2 are a religious band, probably the most successful religious rock band ever.

With this song, Bono threw down the gauntlet to those who’d thought that previous album “October” wasn’t good enough. “War” was everything their growing legion of fans was clamouring for, and filled with the anthems that would go on to reverberate in stadiums throughout the world. One of my first gigs was at Cardiff Arms Park in (I think) 1984 and if there ever was a band to attract a 13-year old boy, it was U2 in the mid-eighties. That yearning! Those spiralling guitar lines! That sense of certainty in what was right and what was wrong! You didn’t get that from The Fall, I can tell you (it goes without saying that I grew out of that stage fairly quickly and moved onto the wonderful and bizarre world of The Fall, New Order and The Smiths).

Back to the song. Kicking off with an ominous piano line, quickly yelled passionately over by our Serious Artist friend Mr Bono, then in come the drums. Unusually for a U2 song, the piano drives the song, rather than being the backing for Mr Edge’s chiming guitar2. And lordy, the band batter you into submission over the song’s four minutes, making you want to pump your fist in the air on numerous occasions. Yes, Mr Bono, I will be with you again. For a pompous tosspot, you have to say he’s got the perfect voice for this kind of thing, and a pitch-perfect ability to write a lyric without quite going over the edge (no pun intended).

For all the stridency and bombast, I’ve quite enjoyed listening to “New Year’s Day” again. Takes me back to my early teenage years in a not entirely unpleasant way. Can’t say the same about Simple Mind’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.

I don’t like swearing in this blog, much. But fucking hell, is this song shit, or what? I’ve had to listen to it quite a few times to make sure, but yep, here is my verdict: It’s Shit. Anyone who says “Yes, but it’s a guilty pleasure and weren’t the Eighties great and blah blah blah” should be given a firm shake. Seriously, it’s songs like this that made the Eighties shit, and it’s songs like this that The Smiths and New Order and the rest saved us from.

Everything about it is just wrong. That awful echo on Jim Kerr’s voice! Those rubbish drums! Oh, sweet Jebus, that keyboard sound! Everything that works well in “New Years Day” goes horribly wrong in “Don’t You (Put The Rest Of The Line In Parenthesis)”. I can hardly bear to write about it any more. I just want it to stop. I hate it so much I’m not even going to post the track; you can watch the video if you really want to give yourself pain. I think I’d rather listen to The Alarm.

So there we go. Three more songs down, only another 351 to go. At this rate I’ll still be doing this in my dotage. Next up, some Great American Noise.

All of my Pitchfork articles are available here.

1 Funnily enough, in 2005 Mark Radcliffe and Mark Riley ran a regular feature on their radio show, trying to track her down, and meet up with her, assuming that she’d completely given up on the whole music thing. Unbeknowst to them, she’d recorded a double album.

2 Every music writer is contractually obliged to use the phrase “chiming” when describing his guitar playing. Like saying Johnny Marr’s guitar is “jangly”. ‘Tis the law.

MP3: Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) by Kate Bush

MP3: New Year’s Day by U2

Amazon’s Kate Bush Store

Amazon’s U2 Store

Amazon’s Simple Mind’s Store (If You Really Have To)

The Telecaster Hits 60

This year the Fender Telecaster, as the Guardian has half-heartedly told us, has reached the venerable age of 60. Except that it hasn’t, really; the first examples were made in 1949, although the first production guitars surfaced in March 1950, under the “Broadcaster” name. Pickiness aside, the Tele was the first proper solid-body electric guitar, and has been in continual production ever since its introduction.

Everyone from Steve Cropper to Frank Black, Bruce Springsteen to Jeff Buckley, Radiohead to the Rolling Stones played one. Famous for its no-nonsense appeal, consisting of a plank of wood and some metal, without even a nice contoured back to make it comfortable; anyone who wants a reliable workhorse that can sound like it’s being played by a heavenly host of angels, or the devil’s own guitar, depending on who’s grasping it.

The Original And Best

Yeah, the Strat might be more elegant, the Les Paul might be more RAWK, and the PRS might be more bling, but the Tele strips everything down to be just you, some planks, and some wire. There’s no hiding place with a Tele, which partly explains why good guitarists love it so much.

My favourite example of this ability to show a guitarist’s true talents comes during Jeff Buckley’s “Live At Sin-é”. Recorded in a small New York cafe, Jeff plays a borrowed Tele (an early ’90’s Butterscotch Blonde American Standard with a maple neck, I believe), with an amp, a microphone, and some reverb. The results are frankly mind-boggling. Tracks from Grace take on a whole new identity when played solo, and some of the covers are a shining example of how to take a song and make it your own.

Lookin' Moody There, Jeffy Boy

None of which quite prepares you for his cover of Edith Piaf’s “Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin”. Never been convinced of his vocals, even after hearing the likes of “Hallelujah” or “Mojo Pin”? This song will send your heart soaring upward to heaven. Always thought he wasn’t a great guitarist? Only a genius would be able to seemingly play three guitars at once, as he does here, and make it sound so gorgeous. Whilst singing.

This is a song I’d like played at my funeral. Just some wood and metal, but in the right hands, it becomes something transcendent. I don’t think Leo Fender ever thought his baby could sound like this. Happy birthday, Tele.

MP3: Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin by Jeff Buckley

Buy “Complete Live At Sine [2CD + DVD]”

Fender Tele Stuff at Amazon

Or check out the Fender site here.

Note: here’s some video of the Sin-e shows. Not ideal, but this was back in the pre-cheap CCD days.

Today’s Hangover

Is brought to you by the letter “W”.

As in, “Why oh why did I keep drinking that sweet, sweet limey beer?”.


Since I really have to go and do some things, this’ll be a quick one, but as I’ve been told in the past, a quickie is better than nothing. Stop sniggering at the back. The letter “W” also brings us the slightly oddly monikered Wavves, who have been making, er, waves, by being not bad at all despite the main man, Nathan Williams, being frankly a total asshole. We Listen For You‘s Zach put it far more elegantly than I ever could in his review of Wavves’s new album, “King Of The Beach”:

Not only is Williams a complete asshole, this being documented by a string of juvenile events last year (fights and festival meltdowns), but his ego gets bigger with each interview I read

Having only heard about his misdemeanours, rather than hearing the music itself, I wasn’t expecting much from the record. But after a couple of listens, and getting used to Nathan’s whiny brat vocals, I found myself enjoying it. Sure, it’s not big, it’s not clever, but sometimes small and stupid is just what you fancy.

Mind you, they do remind me uncomfortably of The Vines. Gah!

MP3: King Of The Beach by Wavves

Pre-Order “King of the Beach” (Import CD)

Hackney Arcade Fire

Bands are trying to get all sorts of things to get you to buy their records. Free 7″ singles, voucher codes to download additional content, or even putting cats in spacesuits on their cover. Cats in spacesuits rule. Arcade Fire have been a shining example of how the Internet can work in your favour, so it wasn’t surprising that they came up with a little plan to get UK fans to pre-order their new album (“The Suburbs“).

Their idea was to offer anyone who pre-ordered their album an opportunity to buy tickets to a special secret gig at London’s Hackney Empire next week. It’s a nice thought, if done right; you sell lots of copies of your new CD (well, a few thousand copies anyway) and you ensure that tickets to your super secret special gig only go to genuine fans rather than those nasty touts.

Problem is, the process wasn’t live. So, when you placed the order, there was no guarantee you’d actually be able to get the tickets. All you had was a statement that you’d get an email sent to you, from where you could then buy tickets. But in this day and age, and with the might of Universal Music behind you, surely it’d have been simple to set it up so that you could just buy two tickets when you did the pre-order? Sure, you’d need the usual safeguards of only one order per credit card/address etc, but wouldn’t that be much more elegant?

Instead, we’ve now got the situation where a bunch of people didn’t manage to get tickets and the tickets that did go on sale to the public – via the ever-unreliable Ticketmaster – sold out in a gnat’s crotchet. I suppose the cynical amongst you might say “Well, Arcade Fire probably don’t care about this, they’ve sold a whole bunch of CDs before it’s even released and sold out the Hackney Empire to boot”, but for once, I’m not being cynical.

Because this is a band who, more often than not, has done the right thing for the fans. This just looks like a major label trying to do something the indies manage far more deftly, and getting it a bit wrong. At least they’re trying, I suppose.

Me, I’ll be hunting around Scarlet Mist for mine.

Pre-Order “The Suburbs” here

MP3: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire