Thursday, 18 April 2013

Scott Miller

Scott Miller died this week. He made many brilliant records, first with Game Theory and then with The Loud Family. Those 1980s Game Theory albums did everything REM's did, only better and with more bite.

Miller thought that "it was essential to hold on to this mid-sixties way of talking about a particular girl with a particular mysterious complexity the way Bob Dylan would, or something" (you should listen to Crash Into June).

Miller had a degree in electrical engineering and used analogue synths and electric drums to complement the jangling, literate romance of his guitar. Game Theory's songs had the conviction that combining Big Star's power pop with The Three O'Clock's paisley underground would define the 80s more accurately than Madonna (you should listen to Penny Things Won't).

Somehow - the usual reasons, you know what they are - neither Game Theory nor The Loud Family broke through. Though there was some attention in the US, they were almost entirely ignored in the UK. In the late 1990s, the band Beulah stayed over at my place after a gig. I put on a Game Theory album - The Big Shot Chronicles, since you ask - and they were elated.

Miller was a near-neighbour of theirs in California. They said he'd be delighted that someone in the UK was a massive fan. I got an email a month later telling me that he was indeed pleased that he was known and well-loved by at least someone. I thought it bittersweet that he wasn't known by tens of thousands. He should've been.

In a 1985 interview, Miller revealed his modesty, realism and pure pop heart:
"We have none of the mysterious appeal of a band like Husker Du, who have overtones of real violence and just confront the world's most heinous problems head on. Or bands like The Cramps that have this kind of ghoulish quality - there's nothing really impressive about any mystique that I have. I'm's just pop. And that's kind of hard to sell sometimes."

Here, read that interview in full:

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Georgiana Starlington: Paper Moon

So this is what Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan would sound like stripped of their studio budget and sent to a shack outside of Nashville with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and Ry Cooder for company. It's dusty and road worn and it aches. There's something of Mazzy Star's ghostly atmosphere in here, too, only this feels more real.

Georgiana Starlington is Jack and Julie Hines moonlighting from their rock band K-Holes. For my money, Georgiana Starlington is where they should go full time. You'll have to flick through a lot of records in the racks to come by one that sustains a spectral presence so captivating as Paper Moon, for one. For two, it's not like Nancy and Lee can make a new album.

In an ideal world, Lee Hazelwood would still be making records and they'd be as good as this. I'm not going to be greedy and ask for another Georgiana Starlington album right now, because I'm certain this one will reveal new layers over many months' listening. There's even a 'hidden track' on the vinyl. It's called I'm Coming Down. You get the picture

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Dick Diver - Calendar Days

Dick Diver occupy the mid-spot between fellow Melburnians Lower Plenty's downbeat, countrified melancholy and Boomgates' suburban pop anthems.

There's common musical ground between all these bands (if you love one, you'll love the other) and in Dick Diver there's also something of The Triffids' bleak Raining Pleasure and The Tender Engines' domestic vignettes. Essentially, they've played Spring Hill Fair a lot more than other Go-Betweens albums.

There's common ground, too, between Dick Diver and Boomgates in Steph Hughes, who owns every song she sings in those bands. She reminds me of Tracey Thorn's deadpan romance and Emma Kupa's keening cry. Calendar Days isn't any kind of departure from debut album New Start Again, but it is even more quietly confident and that little bit better at making the ordinary sound extraordinary.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Rainbow Gun Show - Cinderella Sizzle

Distorted pop like PiL's Death Disco or like Crocodiles if they channelled glam-rock instead of Suicide, Cinderella Sizzle is stuffed full of deranged synths and a nagging, raging guitar riff. Of course there are handclaps. They're from Chicago. This is their first (actual vinyl) single.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Camperdown & Out: Couldn't Be Better

You'll find Camperdown & Out in the middle of The Lemonheads' slacker-jangle, Nodzzz's rattling garage thump and The Tyde's sunny uplands. It hits the sweet spot between fresh pop and raw rock'n'roll.

But if you've already got The Modern Lovers' Roadrunner and Old World, Felt's Something Sends Me To Sleep and Dismantled King Is Off The Throne, and Lou Reed's Vicious, then you've got half this record already. Those songs have been reheated and served up under different names.

Full marks for Camperdown & Out's songs here - they'd have made one of 2013's most exciting EPs. Half marks, though, for the rehashes. I bet if I'd have heard Camperdown & Out's first demo, I'd have jumped at signing them (if I had a record label, you understand), but this album is too much, too soon.

Give them some time and they'll transcend their influences and make an album that can stand proud next to the ones they're so obviously in thrall to.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators - Tortured Soul

Let's get this straight: Tortured Soul is not Keep Reachin' Up part 2. There aren't three songs on here that will be issued on 7" to satisfy the northern soul collectors' hunger. There are some uptempo cuts - Time To Get Business Straight and Break Free (Shake A Tail Feather) - are full of funk fire, but this album doesn't feature If This Ain't Love (Don't Know What Is).

There are precious few albums that wouldn't be improved by the inclusion of If This Ain't Love (Don't Know What Is). But that was 2005. Tortured Soul doesn't try to follow Keep Reachin' Up. It's a different - deeper, more quietly luxurious - experience. The influences - Irma Thomas' A Woman Will Do Wrong on On The East Side, James Carr on the stealthily soulful Best Days Of Our Lives, Bobby Byrd on the dirtily sumptuous It's All Because Of You - make Tortured Soul a richer album.

Tortured Soul didn't take 8 years to make, but it sounds like that much care went into it. It'll last many years longer.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Old Man, Don't Waste Your Time by Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament

They sound like they're having so much fun! I imagine this romp through pop's playground was dreamt up in the pub one night and recorded in the same devil-may-care spirit the next day. "Let's do some pervy purrs a la Jane Birkin!" "Seeing as Lee Thompson's session rate is out of our budget, I'll play the sax!" "And when it comes to the guitar solo, I'm gonna stamp my foot on the fuzz pedal."

Like all great pop songs - and this is great - it sounds like it was written in 5 minutes and caught in one take on tape with a minimum of fuss and bother. It's like Hayman's Bundle! from last year, only bigger and better. 6Music will surely clear the playlist to make room for this.

Oh, you've got to hear the b-side. I Don't Want To Get Used To It channels the countrified melancholy of early 70s Kinks. Extra points for the violin as well.