Whispers assured us we were as lost and stoned as anyone else. People come and go, live and die, cities rise and fall, and change. But you – you promised you’d still be there in the morning.
And you were – you are the sound the sun rises to.
And you remain – you’re what the earth spins to.
But you don’t care about your sway over the sun or the earth or the tides.
That’s why we love you.
Happy 20th Birthday, Souvlaki.
No Joy‘s ‘Maggie Says I Love You’ is everything.
It’s bare toes and outstretched arms in summer, it’s a glimpse of the sun in winter, it’s the rationale that overcomes fury, it is the quiet company you seek in solitude.
Things I love about SULK:
- Their name, my constant state of being
- Their hair – moptop (who needs a field of vision, anyway), sideswept (left), sideswept (right), long (enough), rufflable (c’mere, you)
- Their sound – brazen and unafraid.
Every review of Graceless out so far can be summarised thus: SULK sound like the Stone Roses.
It’s possibly an oversimplification, but not a lie. In addition to the smoky monkey man vox, Graceless is a firm devotee of the Britpop sound, flaunting crisp guitars, hair-flippable drums, and such flowery song titles as ‘Diamonds and Ashes’, ‘Back in Bloom’ and, well, ‘Flowers’.
The question – in sounding like our Madchester/Britpop/Acid House/C86 heroes – are SULK any good?
The answer – surprisingly – yes.
For eras as revered as these, it’s a wonder their derivatives have never come anywhere close to the original sound. Books and movies and journal articles have all striven to capture the essence of what made Madchester/baggy, acid house, and Britpop the sensations they were. Still, the Britpop offspring, never really captured the sound and were, despite the technicalities of their success, unbearably insipid.
Britpop itself – a style, a scene that based its success on sounding like everything that had come before it – was unselfconscious enough not to suffer from banality. Half of Elastica (the album) may not even have been composed by Elastica (the band), but we still listen to ‘Waking Up’ every morning (‘make a cup of tea/put a record on’). We still sing along to ‘Champagne Supernova’ with the same conviction that Liam instills into Noel’s ‘slowly walking down the hall/faster than a cannonball‘.
That’s the ‘swagger’ everyone talks about – the obnoxious self-confidence with which the blatantly inane and/or unethical are not only forgiven, but celebrated.
SULK are the first group I’ve come across to have it. While I can’t quite catch any plagiarism on Graceless (apart from the passing similarity between the opening of ‘Marian Shrine’ and German group Selig‘s ‘Ist Es Wichtig’, which I can’t imagine is intentional), and the lyrics seem innocuous enough, SULK radiate poise and self-assurance. They wind 1989-1994 around their fingertips as if the years were their own creation (no pun intended).
It’s not plagiarism, it’s inspiration – or so I react to ‘Marian Shrine’ (aka ‘Manchild’, for those of you not keeping your eyes on the tracklist) the most Roses-y of the lot. A track that prances around a sticky chorus you’re sure you’ve heard before (“maaaaaan-chiiiiiild!”), completely oblivious to the decade it’s in.
Wait, no, it’s clearly ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that’s the most Roses-y. It’s funny how all of us review types are throwing around the word ‘Madchester’ as if there’s some sort of revival going on, when really SULK only sound (exactly) like one of the three bands that defined the sound. Not a sign of the shameless grooves that made the Mondays or the broody mantras of the Carpets. Again, we’ve got a song that sounds so familiar it hurts – but just try to place it… it can’t be done.
Have mercy – from this whirling opener we’re thrown into the breathless ‘Flowers’ whose endless chorus overflows with all the jingle-jangle and ba-ba-ba’s in the world, ensuring you’ll spin around and around till your head flies off. A little later, a song made up of the ocean – ‘Back in Bloom’ (if your eye’s not on tracklist, you’re hearing this as ‘Black and Blue’). Waves of reverb, waves of ricocheting space-vox, and waves of a chorus that spirals in and out of focus (‘she’ll be back in bloom’).
I didn’t ever expect an album like Graceless to come my way, or even to exist. Nostalgia aside, it’s worth admiring the album for the quality of its production (Ed Buller worked on albums by Suede, Pulp and White Lies – SURPRISE!). It’s also worth noting that, despite their FANTASTIC hair, I am praising SULK on the worth of their music. Graceless must be good.
Word of mouth is an amazing thing.
Forget banner ads and social networks, forget mass mix-tapes and mix-CDs and mix-m3u-s, forget advertising budgets and marketing spends.
Because what power could lights, colours and rapid frame rates possibly wield over the influence of a simple “Hey, listen to this – it sounds like you”.
The intimacy of a phrase that you know has come to you and no one else.
That’s how I found Last Leaf Down.
This one’s got the echo chamber acoustics that make it feel like it’s coming from within you, so you feel the deception it does when it cries out:
‘Fake lights in the sky’
Something about Screen Vinyl Image is unambiguously vintage.
It could be the name – its resemblance to the authentically ancient Ultra Vivid Scene.
But more likely its the sound. Born out of the far ‘nu’-er Alcian Blue, SVI are unashamedly not so. Ignore any/all reviews/bios calling SVI ‘futuristic’ or ‘contemporary’ or any synonym thereof. Look – they’ve got Bernard Sumner to do vox on ‘Stay Asleep’ – the second track of their latest release*, 51:21, presumably named for the duration of the album (which, fyi, is 51:59)
51:21 opens with the immensely likeable ‘Too Much Speed’ – released as a single a couple of years ago if you were paying attention. A pleasantly noisy pop-tart with a tambourine and a hook, dancing with each other against a backdrop of fuzzy-coarse guitar noise that remains politely out of the way.
Not quite so approachable is the aforementioned ‘Stay Asleep’ which features Gary Chadwick**. There is not a shred of doubt that this track was recorded around the time I was born (probably earlier).
BUT WAIT WHAT’S THIS.
Cross the four minute mark and it’s the scene from Alien – an entirely new creature bursting out of a familiar character. Relentless (analogue) synths push their way out of the placid electropop and drill their way mercilessly into your subconscious. You’ll hear the echoes in your dreams, your veins will throb to the percussion and your ears will tingle with what may be white noise or may be tinnitus.
Barring the closer, we’ve met the rest of these songs before, on The Midnight Sun EP, but they’re worth revisiting. These are the tracks you can see played live while you listen – lights swaying and melting into each other, voices soaked up by carpet and bouncing off concrete, heads bobbing or swaying, eyelids closing, bodies staying rigid.
I’m especially fond of ‘Passing Through Mirrors’ – atypical, no doubt, it lacks the blackness of its comrades, its guitar is very nearly acoustic, it’s got ‘shimmer’ and ‘sparkle’ (are those chimes?), it whistles and it coos, and before it can hypnotise us completely, it curls up into itself and slinks away, leaving us with the unforgiving intro of ’16mm Shrine’ to jolt us back into the dark.
Thinkpiece? Jam session? Composition? Who knows what ’51:21′ was meant to be but its 32 minutes are what take up the 51:21 (51:59?) it’s named after. Live and unedited, it’s whirlpool synths, marching beats, metallic echos, a racing pulse, and even some 8 bit ideas. Our alien friend from ‘Stay Asleep’ also makes an appearance around the 25 minute mark, this time with a classic reverby ‘gaze guitar serving as its foil.
If I had been more timely, I’d have been able to lead you to their bandcamp page so you could pick up 51:21 in Ye Olde Cassette Formatte. Now, however, you’re left with no choice but to direct venomous curses at me as you grudgingly download the digital album.
So I just wrote this review, right, where I bemoaned the fact that my elitist status was at stake since the music I listened to (throbby droney noisy pneumatic drilly) was more accessible than I had anticipated. Nobody wants the music they like to be universally appealing – if everyone digs what you’re into, how can you be all snobby about it, and if you can’t be snobby about music, then what’s the point of living.
Turns out, I can’t expect elitism with High In The Lasers either. Nightmare Air, feat. Dave Dupuis of Film School (you remember them – they had that superb album, Hideout) is a trio led by a duo (hey man, I’m just reading the onesheet here), and if you thought Film School were easy on the ears, prepare for a whole new level of almost-pop with Nightmare Air.
Don’t immediately distance yourself from this album because I used the P-word. Their video for ‘Icy Daggers’ has Brian Aubert cameo-ing, which should be all you need to understand what kind of ‘pop’ we’re talking about here.
Cameos aside, High in the Lasers is all kinds of ridiculous in the repeat-factor stakes – at least up until the fourth track. ‘Escape’, the opener, makes it abundantly clear that it’s an album all about the production. On last.fm they’re proudly tagged ‘under 2000 listeners’ (542 at last count) (this is a TAG?), but the sound on this album is no small-label-local-band production – it’s sonic crystal.
One again, I turn to the onesheet:
“Mixed by Dave Schiffman (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Mars Volta, Dead Meadow) with mastering by Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The White Stripes),”
‘Escape’ and ‘Icy Daggers’, already given a massive boost on account of the stellar mixing, ensure their own moreishness by using that clever device – contrast. Floaty female coos interrupted and aided by crude male yelps (not as unappetising as that sounds). Noise-soaked walls etched with perfectly defined riffs and percussion. And your standard loud-soft: delicate intros, outros and verses offset by crumpled, chaotic instrumentation in the chorus.
From the first track to the fourth, High in the Lasers rises steadily, peaking at ‘Sweet Messy Riff’, a track which , in addition to all the above, possesses the most frustrating of qualities – a slippery hook. Unable to hum it back to yourself to satiate a craving, you find yourself putting the track – just the track – on repeat till your neurons are satisfied/self-destruct.
What happens after track 4? No one knows why, but the curve that had already hit its peak and plateaued right at the outset starts to turn downwards. ‘Sun Behind The Rocks’ is peppered with a completely unnecessary 8-bitty buzz through the track which climaxes in an incomprehensible two minutes of beeps, vibrations and thumps. ‘Eyes’, which follows, is a redeemer, as anything would be, but it’s not nearly of the same calibre as the first four tracks. I’m also going to tactfully avoid saying anything about ‘Wolf in the Wood’, apart from ‘Where have the producers/mixers gone?’.
So don’t be alarmed if you start losing focus midway. Go back a couple of tracks, get your momentum back and plough on. Alternatively, take a break, let the phantoms of what you just heard melt away, and start over from ‘Brightest Diamond’.
And hey, since I already brought it up, Hideout is as yummy today as it was the first time you heard it. Pay it a visit again, if you can spare the time.
Hardworking is the band that records one album while writing another album.
While working on the follow-up to Bon Voyage, Echodrone took some time out to unwind by creating a collection of cover songs. As you do.
The heads up I got for Mixtape for Duckie had me even more excited than news of their follow-up album will.
Unless, the announcement of their next release ALSO contains the words ‘George Michael‘.
George Michael was my first famous-person crush/love. My first memorised discography. My first mailing list. Even now, in the more advanced and progressive (or primitive?) stage of my musical life, I would put ‘Soon’ on pause just to have 6 uninterrupted minutes with ‘The Strangest Thing’.
[you can tell the inclination towards shoegaze started early]
Now, cover songs – there’s an art form. When Eugene wrote to tell me about Mixtape for Duckie, he made it sound like recording an album’s worth of cover songs, each from a different era/genre, was some dinky paint-by-numbers scene. Good lord, successfully executing a cover version of a song is often a bigger achievement than pushing out all-new material. When working on your own stuff, your benchmark is yourself. When making a cover version, you are well-aware you’re going to be compared to whoever you’re choosing to reinterpret. And Higher-Power-Of-Choice help you if you pick a well-loved track to operate on.
Not one but SIX beloved songs sit happily in the digital grooves of Mixtape for Duckie. What are you DOING, Echodrone? I ask, simultaneously eager and apprehensive. ‘WE FEAR NOTHING’, they declare as they wriggle into ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, deftly replacing Numan’s capitulation with…
what IS that?
Yep – no longer a vanquished sigh, Echodrone’s version is less wistful and more curious. Less jaded, and more genuine.
Even more astounding is their version of ‘Cry Little Sister’. Immaculate – it doesn’t lose its conviction quite as much as it loses its solitude. It’s an irrepressibly beautiful interpretation of the original which now appears to only have been brought into existence so it could live to be transformed into this more liberated, more elevated, less isolated mantra.
And then, Echodrone chose to tackle GM’s ‘Praying For Time’ – the despondent narration of the demise of humanity (or, more precisely, humaneness). In their version, it’s the instrumentation that carries the apocalypse. The bridge “the rich declare themselves poor/and most of us are not sure/if we have too much/but we’ll take our chances/because god’s stopped keeping score” etc. is swirled around, sucked into, and spat out of the noise around it. The essence of the song isn’t lost – it’s just being carried by waves instead of words.
It’s a few years ago now that a, presumably unofficial, three-part mixtape hit the online airwaves. In it, shoegazers covered other shoegazers. While I have my favourites from that collection, the futility of the exercise was apparent. Even the best of tracks were black and white xeroxes of untouchable originals. Learn from Echodrone – Why imitate, when you can adopt?
Three seconds in and I’m really angry with the new My Bloody Valentine record.
You don’t know why because I, surprisingly, did NOT immediately spit my angst out on twitter. I didn’t want to dampen everyone’s elevated spirits. The one tweet that did go out was:
Less than excited about new MBV. Find me a band that has got better with old age—
Radhika (@levis517) February 03, 2013
‘Scott Walker‘ was the sole response, and immediately disqualified on the grounds of not actually being a band. The remaining angst (at all the hype) and disappointment (trending is the new selling out?) was sublimated into these two socially acceptable fellas:
The message that I was trying to politically correctedly squeeze out was that we’re all acting like MBV is the first raincloud we’ve seen after a 20 year drought, which seems grossly unfair to all those bands that have been working on keeping the sound and the scene alive in that time.
In any case, MBV is only the most severely replicated band we have. A newcomer to the scene could be forgiven for imagining the band is the embodiment of a generic shoegaze sound; that the style has no nuances or subtypes. MBV is shoegaze and is indistinguishable from Slowdive or The Telescopes. Why, anyone with a bit of fuzz on their guitar sounds like MBV, right?
Of course not. That’s a filler statement in a music review. It only holds true for a handful of bands. Secret Shine, the most blatant, Fleeting Joys, the most dedicated, and Ringo Deathstarr, the most successful.
It’s been twenty years, and I know I have moved on to more evolved forms of shoegaze. I get excited about a new Alcest album because I don’t know anyone else who can blend raging black metal guitars, with serene vocals, to create a landscape so vivid you can see it. I (would) get excited about a new [The] Slowest Runner [In All The World] album, because I’ve never known a sound like neo-classical warehouse post-rock. I get excited about The Radio Dept and Me You Us Them and A Place To Bury Strangers and even the Telescopes because I don’t have anyone else to turn to for a fix.
For 20 years, MBV has been all around me in the form of homages, rip-offs, and influencees.
Three seconds in, I was really angry with the new MBV record. I understood the excitement – maybe I felt it too? I understood there was only one MBV, and the sounds was irreproducible. I understood that the bands working in the interim were too many, too tiny to be able to compete. I understood I may be the only one who’d moved on to embrace Butterfly Explosion, Tears Run Rings, A Place To Bury Strangers, Airiel, Echodrone, Hammock, Amusement Parks on Fire, Highspire, God Is An Astronaut and countless more.
And in the midst of all this understanding, I realised the new MBV album means nothing to any of us if you think about what it would have meant to Danny.
Danny Lackey isn’t here for the release of m b v, but more than any of us he deserves to have heard it. Rather, it deserves to have been heard by him. So while you’re listening to m b v, take a moment, or 46 minutes and 29 seconds, and listen to it for Danny. Then go a step further and prove your dedication to the music, its makers, and the scene.
It’s not about the hair anymore.
There used to be a time you could judge the quality of a musician or a group solely by the quality of their hair – the fondly remembered and profoundly missed age of the music video. I always was partial to the 90s.
But they don’t do videos these days.
I didn’t know what Dayve (Hawke) looked like when I first got a taste of Memory Cassette. I remember asking after ‘Ghost in the Boombox’ as it oozed out of and ebbed away from turned-up car speakers one evening in 2008. I remember (figuratively) attaching myself to ‘Asleep at a Party’ the way Carol-Anne stuck to the TV set on the accompanying image of the non-EP The Hiss We Missed.
I didn’t know if this was one fellow or many. I couldn’t tell if it was a she or a he. I didn’t know much at all till the pre-release activity around Seek Magic compelled me to do my research on Memory Tapes. First when I wrote about Bicycle, then again when I wrote about the full-length. Putting out an album is no small deal – the individual I’d come to regard as a quiet, content, recluse – had to come out of hiding.
Wouldn’t you know it:
THAT HAIR… it can’t do wrong.
As it turns out, the most successful track on Grace/Confusion is the first. ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, on its own, carries the conviction that the Green Knight‘s desolate moaning (Remember ‘I want to give you my love, I want to call your name, at the sound of my voice, you turn away…’?) worked out for the best in the end. At the outset, it’s a sleepy, languid thing, not unlike Seek Magic‘s own starter (the dog shows up too). Similarly, hearing the first warbles of ‘I watch you sleep’ is consoling in its tenderness. Unless you decide to recall the song’s title at just that moment, at which point it becomes a little unsettling.
I struggle to come to terms with Memory Tapes’ popularity – it seems incongruous to my original image of the guy. You know – the basement musician whose dedication to music led to him creating different monikers for different styles. This way we never got too attached to one style or sound, and he wasn’t bound to any one of them either. Weird Tapes is the one you twirl to, Memory Cassette is the one you swirl to. Hail Social is completely unpretentious – the most confident, self-aware he’s ever been. Memory Tapes is… well… great,definitely, but…
It feels unnatural.
Suddenly, from talking to us from We’re Tapes, sharing basement recordings for no reason beyond having recorded them, MT’s all over P4K.
It feels like we’ve lost him.
And maybe we have.
There’s nothing to complain about in Grace/Confusion – there are too many familiar faces – the neighbour’s dog, the chipmunk choir, the stoned samurai – but if you hadn’t met them before, would they warm your heart the way they did when you first heard them?
There’s something different, though – different from the naiveté and intimacy of (even) Seek Magic, and more pronounced than what we heard in Player Piano.
Maybe the vibe I’m getting from Grace/Confusion is the same vibe I’m giving out with this writing: self-consciousness.
I’ve been putting off writing about Flies On You for ages now, much to Doug’s discontent. I can give you the standard ‘life stuff’ reason blaming work and study and suchlike for limiting time I can devote to AE (sorry, AE, I still love you, you’re my baby, mwah). Or I can give you the real reason – I’m sort of scared.
(But wait a minute – who’s Doug?)
We’ll get to that.
We have another //orangenoise situation on our hands. Once again, I have to walk the fine line between cutting edge insider scoop and TMI.
From the start Flies on You have been labelled post-punk. I can’t recall whether this was their own doing (‘DIY post-punk’ proclaims their bio) or something imposed on them by an over-eager fan, but where that idea came from remains a mystery. In response to your question, Doug (Aikman) is the chap to whom I owe most of my coolth (except for the shoegaze bit – that one’s me and Richard Ashcroft). He’s the one who saved me from the classic rock abyss for which I am eternally grateful. He gave me my first tastes of My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized, Killing Joke, Big Black, Sonic Youth, Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes, Luke Haines and the Auteurs, and, thankfully, never shared a Radiohead song with me throughout (ILU, Doug). Despite this behemoth of musical expertise living in his brain, how he and Andrew (Watkins) could so grossly mislabel their own band is inexplicable. They’re only post-punk because they were once punk, I proudly declared one day. Then I declared it a few more times in the coming days because I was that proud of the line. D offered to make it the band’s byline in an attempt to get me to stop repeating it, but that idea never took off, possibly because last.fm tags are set in stone.
You see, Doug used to be in a punk band of his own back when post-punk was just winding up. When zines, not blogs, kept you cool. Nerve Rack were post-punk punk, which means they, like Flies on You, weren’t very post-punk at all. So if they aren’t what they say they are, what are they?
What does that even mean? No.
There are pockets, but not really. (maybe with some convincing?)
Nice try! No.
Maybe the next album, right now – no.
Yea…. we’re not getting anywhere.
We’ve no choice but to rely on our own observations. Egad, I can’t remember the last time my dependence on genre pigeonholes allowed me to do that.
There’s a (predictable) preference, on Nothing To Write Home About, for talking over singing. There’s also a lyrical tendency to narrate rather than emote. The words to ‘Spain’, admirably accomplish both by following up a personal narrative with the emotionally-aware chorus ‘you fucking cow’. But that’s where the sentimentality ends. Don’t try to pass off ‘You’re Shite’ as emotive, when it is simply fact. None of the tracks on this album really look you in the eye. They don’t look at you at all. Each one appears to be talking to someone else. These aren’t empathetic songs, they’re reality (real life doesn’t know you exist).
I wish I could label them ‘punk’ and be done with it, but alas – they’re far from that simple. Listen to ‘Slashing it Down’, f’rinstance. Is that a hint of – it couldn’t be – REM? The harmonies – they’re straight off Out Of Time. That’s not very punk (post or otherwise) at all.
Listen to ‘Muh-m-m-m-m-muh’ – the descriptive title does nothing to warn you of the climactic little cannonball within its one and a half minutes.
And no punks in their right mind would, even ironically, ever use the word ‘pop’ in a song title.
And no punks have ever had a song as mellow, as sophisticated, or as long as ‘The last pop song’. Five whole minutes! You spoil us, FoY!
But, if in your cramped life, you find you can’t squeeze in the time to listen to the entirety of Nothing To Write Home About, do me just this one favour. Listen to ‘Yeah, wild I know but, nonetheless’. Pay no attention to the misplaced comma – it means nothing. Or does it?
Flies On You are the “b-side babies” of whom Adam(Ant) wisely spoke. They merely tolerate the anaemic epithet “DIY post-punk” as a descriptor of their oeuvre. Needs must, etc.
Them’s the band’s own words. If you’re listening on bandcamp, play each track from its individual page, just so you can revel in the delicate little stories subheads they’ve provided for each. Ah – how we’ve missed having album liner notes to lose our vision to.
Oi, hang on – I just noticed I’m thanked for ‘a fragment of a lyric’ – what lyric?