Monday, 25 February 2013

Dr Honda

When people talk about Saint Etienne's love of pop music, their easy matching of dance music's buzz with the aesthetics of indie introspection, I think surely they must sound like Dr Honda. They don't, of course. Only Dr Honda sound that good.

I didn't know anyone who bought - fuck it, who knew - Don't Sleep Much in 2001. Maybe I didn't read the right magazines, listen to the right radio shows; maybe I didn't have the right friends. Same story in 2003 with the peerless California ep, from which Silver Star Lovers is taken.

But, come on, this is great. They number One Dove's (and Altered Image's) Jim McKinven. I don't know much else. I'd like to know that outside of the 5 songs they released over 2 10" singles there's an album in the vaults. But this is the beauty of pop music - it comes from nowhere, it raises expectations, it quickens the pulse and then it vanishes as mysteriously as it arrived.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Amor de Dias - The House At Sea

If Amor de Dias, who number The Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean and Pipas’ Lupe Nunez-Fernandez, showed on their debut ties to The Clientele’s last album, Bonfires on the Heath, by sharing a song, Harvest Time, it definitely wasn’t a Clientele album under a different name.

Amor de Dias’ second album, The House At Sea, is more different still: it’s the sound of the band fulfilling their cultured, poetic potential. Their pastoral shadings have given way to something brighter and stronger and fresher. And it’s all their own.

The House At Sea was realised in a more concentrated session than 2011’s Street of the Love of Days. And it shows. It’s a record that sustains an aesthetic – melody and melancholy, like Galaxie 500 or those early 80s Felt LPs – throughout its course. There’s something in here, too, of The Chills in combining psychedelia’s claustrophobia with a sense of space. And in Maureen, they've captured Broadcast's enigma and set it sail somewhere between Hampshire and Madrid.

But The House At Sea breathes its own air. It’s another world where traditional Spanish guitars meet English folk’s flintiness and where the sun is always either setting or rising. There’s even a pop song in Jean’s Waving, which reinvents The Clientele’s Jerry in Amor de Dias’ image.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Small Reactions - Michael J. Foxworthy

Michael J. Foxworthy is a sneak preview of the Small Reactions Basement Tapes, issued years after they stopped making blisteringly intense guitar pop songs driven by propulsive krautrock rhythms.

Small Reactions haven’t even finished their debut album, of course. But you know their two award-winning singles (I give out the awards). So you’ll know that there will surely come a time when they’ve left the urgent, white heat of their records behind for designer drugs, heart-shaped Jacuzzis and the adulation of every new band.

That’s my best guess and I’ve only heard the first rough mixes for the album. Michael J. Foxworthy is where it started in 2010: “…it doesn’t really sound like anything we’ve done since. But here it stands, it all its abrasive, loud, angular glory.”

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


One of these statements is true: mbv is a collection of Loveless outtakes with drum’n’bass samples added in 1996; mbv was written and recorded in 1992, and has been tinkered with in the studio for over 20 years; mbv could have been written and recorded at any point in the past 22 years as the follow up to Loveless, but it could only have been done by mbv.

There’s some truth in all of those possibilities, but none more so than the last point. With Loveless, MBV took their patented glide guitar (ask Guitar Hero magazine) and built up the ghostly noise with techno music’s hypnotic ecstasy.

Loveless was the sound of MBV travelling down a road that had been part-built by AR Kane and carrying on until they reached the edge of the world. And then jumping off.

"Too often when people make good records, there's an aftershock effect, and they collapse psychologically and emotionally,'' Shields said in '95. "Brian Wilson is a classic case of that. I'm trying to prove that you can make genuinely interesting music and come out with new ideas without an emotional drain to the point where you break down. I could make another record that would top the others we've made--I've been ready to for a while now--but to me it's extremely important to make that record in such a way that I'll be able to make another one. For lots of small, petty, human reasons that I won't go into, I'd like to be around in five years' time, making better and better records."

mbv is genuinely interesting insofar as it proves that any band who says they’re influenced by MBV merely want to sound like them, when they actually sound like the Mary Chain or in more outrĂ© cases like Sonic Youth. What these pretenders never seemed to work out is that the hailstorm drums were as important as the blissed out guitar layers.

I only realised a few years ago that shoegaze – Slowdive, Ride, Chapterhouse etc etc – was a scene inspired by MBV. I thought they were bands who liked fx pedals and stared at them, near where their shoes were. They were so far away from MBV that I had no idea then that they were even trying to sound like MBV.

In 1991, Loveless saw MBV in a similar position to Kraftwerk 10 years before with Computer World. Their most commercial success, Computer World was the sound of the laboratory-created Kraftwerk sound finally chiming at the same time as a lot of newer bands. Cheaper technology had allowed the rest of the world to catch up with Kraftwerk and quickly saw them overtaken by producers who could do in an evening what Kraftwerk spent years in a lab creating.

In 2013, mbv sees MBV chiming at the same time as they did in 1991, like a stopped clock. Of course mbv doesn’t sound as thrilling or unnerving as Loveless, precisely because it sounds pretty much the same. It’s quaint looking back to 1988 when Isn’t Anything came out. That disembodied, disorienting noise was so confusing for some people that they tried to use that old heavy metal canard that this music would encourage suicide (the chorus of Sue Is Fine is “suicide”). I don’t remember anyone taking that idea seriously.

No such fuss was made over Loveless, even though its sonic leap was even more disturbing than Isn’t Anything. And there’ll be no such fuss over mbv – an album so in the image of Loveless, so exactly the sound of MBV and no one else that it’s titled eponymously.

I’d like Shields (and O’ Coisoig on drums) to be around in 5 years’ time to make a better record. If, though, mbv – Loveless’ less talented sibling – is the yardstick, then they’ve already gone as far as they can. Why no one else has caught up with them or overtaken them, as happened with Kraftwerk, either points to MBV having created rock music’s avant-garde high and proved it’s an impossible ascent, or in their cyclonic sonics, loops and samples there’s something intrinsically human that can’t be replicated.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Heaven's Gate - High Riser

Sweet Bulbs' sudden arrival two years ago was as mysterious as their departure. Some of them re-grouped as Heaven's Gate, whose violent feedback, shredded riffs and enigmatic melodies bear all the hallmarks of Sweet Bulbs' deadly charm.

You might already know Salome - it did the download round in 2011, announcing Heaven's Gate arrival - in which case you'll want more. You're in luck: seven(!) songs fight for space on the High Riser 7". Any three of them would make a great ep.

The time lapse between Salome and the High Riser ep, of which Salome is one-seventh, suggests that Heaven's Gate might vanish as quickly and frustratingly as Sweet Bulbs. Still, what a legacy they'd leave.