Pieces Of The People We Love – a Review

Towards the end of the post-punk era of 1978-1984 many of the original punks and post-punks moved onto the dance floor and into the pop charts. Bands like Human League, ABC, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire, Scritti Politti, New Order, and even Gang Of Four, were releasing radio-friendly dance music. It sort of makes sense that today’s post-punk revivalists might want to make a similar move.

New York’s The Rapture took a step in this direction with their 2003 single ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’, a searing slab of disco-noise. Their latest release, ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’, takes the ‘Lovers’ sound, and reshapes it into an album’s worth of fabulously funky pop tunes, reminiscent of New York’s ‘mutant disco’ of the early 80s, the minimalist sound of bands like Bush Tetras and Liquid Liquid, and most of all, Talking Heads, in particular, their 1980 album ’Remain in Light’.

The song most likely to draw comparisons with Talking Heads is album centrepiece ‘Whoo! Alright Yeah… Uh Huh’. This song sets the sonic template for the album – prominent bass, flickering guitars, bleeping and burping synths and a multitude of beats – all intricately interwoven over a steady dance groove. Lyrically too, the song reveals the band’s ‘manifesto’ for the album. Or, should I say, its ‘anti-manifesto’.

People don’t dance no more
They just stand there like this
They cross their arms and stare you down
And drink and moan and diss

‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ turns its back on the serious indie-types and their ‘crap rock poetry’ and celebrates the pop song. Elsewhere the lyrics seem provocatively simplistic – from the ‘Na-na-na, Na-na-na’ of the title track to the ‘love/above, kept/wept’ rhymes of ‘The Devil’.

In ‘First Gear’ – a kind of synth-funk driving song – singer, Luke Jenner, delivers a series of dopey sex-as-car/driving images before the backing vocalists join him in the ‘My My My My Mustang Ford’ refrain. It’s deliriously silly, as is the orgasmic yelp in the aforementioned ‘Devil’, and the Tom Tom Club-like call-and-response vocals of ‘Whoo! Alright Yeah…’

But while the emphasis is on the beat rather than the brain, these songs aren’t exactly slick disco retreads. There’s enough noise and warped sentiment to give them a little edge. ‘The Sound’, for example, features a wall of clattering rhythms and buzzing electronics, while opening track ‘Don Gon Do It’ embellishes the bouncing synth-bass and singalong chorus with screeching guitars.

Another highlight is ‘Down For So Long’. Like ‘Whoo! Alright-Yeah…’ it pieces together twitching electronics with intricate rhythm sounds to create something that wouldn’t sound out of place on Talking Heads’ ‘Speaking in Tongues’. (Even its vague references to ‘the man upstairs’ echo the lyrical preoccupations of David Byrne.)

The less successful tracks are those that stray from the pop-funk model. ‘Calling Me’ is built around a slower, shuffling rhythm and a tune that lacks the celebratory feel of the rest of the album. Closing track ‘Live In Sunshine’ suffers from a similar problem, but manages to overcome the slow pace by projecting an appropriately ‘sunny’ outlook with its ringing guitars and gospel-flavoured backing vocals

‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ is the type of album that is becoming increasingly rare. It dares to bridge the gap between the ‘popular’ and the ‘alternative’, a reminder of the days when it was acceptable for a ‘serious’ band to play dance music.


One Minute Music Reviews 3

An overview of some of the most interesting albums to have come my way in the last three months.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – The Letting Go

Recorded in Iceland, ‘The Letting Go’ sparkles with a crystalline clarity. Oldham’s hoarse warble is augmented by a string quartet and Dawn McCarthy’s backing vocals to beautiful effect. Tracks like ‘Cursed Sleep, ‘Love Comes To Me’ and ‘The Seedling’ already sound like classics. (4.5/5)

The Dears – Gang Of Losers

The Dears’ third album might not have the immediacy of ‘No Cities Left’, but it is a complex, ambitious and ultimately rewarding collection of songs. The lyrical themes are big and broad – love, fear, rejection, racism and forgiveness, while the music is almost cinematic in scope. For full review click here. (4/5)

Figurines – Skeleton

Scandinavia continues to produce quality pop music. This four piece sound a lot like Modest Mouse or The Shins but actually come from Denmark. All fuzzy guitar and power-pop hooks, the album’s highlights include ‘The Wonder’, ‘Ambush’ and ‘Silver Ponds’. (3/5)

Herbert – Scale

Highly regarded UK producer Matthew Herbert’s latest project combines disco beats, jazzy horns, sumptuous strings and blue-eyed soul singing. And if that isn’t enough, he also manages to throw in some political commentary. It’s an extravagantly ambitious album that effortlessly glides from torch song to dance groove and back again. (4/5)

The Knife – Silent Shout

‘Silent Shout’ is not a ‘happy’ record and it’s not always a pleasure to listen to, but The Knife have successfully created their own unique sound world, with its own languages, landscapes and characters. Many artists have such an aim, but few achieve it with such style and originality. For full review click here. (3.5/5)

Grant Lee Phillips – nineteeneighties

The ‘covers’ album concept is rarely a recipe for success. Phillips’ fourth solo is one such rarity. He pays tribute to the artists who inspired him – Pixies, Nick Cave, New Order, Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and others – by reinterpreting some of their lesser known tunes. Somehow, he manages to retain the essence of the songs while making them sound exactly like Grant Lee Phillips. (3.5/5)

Scritti Politti – White Bread, Black Beer

‘White Bread Black Beer’ is Scritti’s most diverse album yet, a rich smorgasbord of sounds, from squelchy dub reggae to Beatlesque electro-folk. After three decades in the music business – from post-punk to new pop to hip hop – Green Gartside seems relaxed and comfortable and quite happy doing whatever comes to him. For full review click here. (3.5/5)

The Sleepy Jackson – Personality

The second Sleepy Jackson album is a dreamy, string-soaked affair reminiscent of the Beach Boys, Beatles and 70s AOR. Luke Steele’s meditations on God, the Devil and everything in-between are miniature pop-symphonies, laced with celestial horns and a chorus of angels. (4/5)

Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche

Stevens blesses us with another 74 minutes of music from last year’s ‘Illinois’ project. While presented as ‘Extras and Outtakes’, songs like ‘Dear Mr Supercomputer’, ‘Springfield’ and ‘Mistress Witch from McClure’ would make any ordinary artist’s A-list. Further proof of Stevens’ genius. (4/5)

Tapes ‘n’ Tapes – The Loon

This Minneapolis quartet has been described by some overenthusiastic music press as this year’s Arcade Fire. One of the few things they do share with the Canadian band is a knack for melding moods and styles – from the rockabilly shuffle of ‘Insistor’ to the scratchy guitar bursts of ‘Crazy Eights’. (3.5/5)

Thom Yorke – The Eraser

Thom Yorke’s debut solo album is an extension of the moody electronica of Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’. It’s as cynical and pessimistic as one would expect, but it is also intimate and even bleakly beautiful. Highlights include ‘Black Swan’ and the grim ‘Harrowdown Hill’. (3.5/5)

Gang of Losers – a Review

It’s a brave band that calls their new album ‘Gang of Losers’. But then The Dears and their front man and songwriter, Murray Lightburn, are no strangers to taking risks or confronting adversity. The band formed in the mid-90s, but had virtually imploded by the time their debut album was released in 2000. Meanwhile, Lightburn was experiencing drink and drug problems. The band finally found success in 2004 with their second lp ‘No Cities Left’ . The album was a surprise hit, with the single ‘Lost in the Plot’ receiving significant airplay worldwide.

The Dears’ third album might not have the immediacy of ‘No Cities Left’, but it is a complex, ambitious and ultimately rewarding collection of songs. The lyrical themes are big and broad – love, fear, rejection, racism and forgiveness, while the music is almost cinematic in scope. The ‘Gang of Losers’ of the title refers to any group of marginalized individuals – a band, a race, a religion, a culture – with each song exploring or celebrating the idea of the ‘outsider’.

Every single one of us is getting massacred on a frozen path
Fever comes to wipe us out and scratch a name off of the list
You and I are on the outside of almost everything

Sings Lightburn in the title track. But like many of the songs here, it concludes with an acceptance or recognition of a simple truth –

We, we’ve got the same heart

This song is among a group of strong slower tracks. ‘Hate, Then Love’ is another. Over swirling mellotron and chiming guitars, Lightburn yearns for understanding –

We’ll find our place in this world
It’ll take all day and all night
We’ll find our place in this world
If it takes all day and all night

There has been much talk of the Britpop or Morrissey influence on The Dears music. While that might have been true of one or two songs on ‘No Cities Left’, there is little of such sound on ‘Gang of Losers’. Given the fussy arrangements and retro keyboard sounds on ‘Losers’ the influences are more 70s ‘prog’ than 90s pop.

Two minutes into ‘Fear Made The World Go Round’, for example, the song switches from a slowburning piano-based ballad to a guitar-crunching stomp. The atmospheric ‘I Fell Deep’ makes a similar transition, fading out as a very 70s guitar solo screeches into view.

The uptempo songs on ‘Losers’ are a mixed bunch, and there is nothing quite as radio-friendly as ‘Lost in the Plot’. ‘Death Or Life We Want You’ is built around slashing guitars, while ‘Whites Only Party’ is a peculiarly jaunty take on race relations. Elsewhere, Lightburn questions the value of success and stardom. From ‘Bandwagoneers’ –

Heaven knows that I’m a fake
Heaven knows that we’re all faking it
Everything we are

And opening track ‘Ticket To Immortality’ –

I hang out with all the pariahs
Everyone is almost done with me

This could all come across as quite bleak and heavy-handed, yet Lightburn and his band skillfully balance the light and dark. For every word of despair or angry sound there is a message of hope or burst of shimmering guitar. Over the simple piano and drums intro to ‘Ballad of Humankindness’ Lightburn tells us –

Well I thought that we all cared about peace
And I thought that we’d all cry about love and loss

And –

I can’t believe the vast amounts of people living on the streets
And I can’t believe I was almost one of them and I almost died

He berates himself for not offering to help those in need, but asks us to forgive him –

I’m gonna change, I’m gonna change, I’m gonna change

Like the best of any artistic endeavour – be it poetry, prose or pop – ‘Gang of Losers’ explores what it is to be human. It doesn’t reach any conclusions or offer any simple solutions, but examines the good and bad in everything.

With no obvious single to attract the attention of the music-buying public, it’s possible that this album will not find the audience it deserves. But this ‘Gang of Losers’ is worth getting to know. It is a richly textured work, meticulously arranged and passionately delivered. Losing never sounded so good.

Silent Shout – A Review

The Knife are Swedish brother-and-sister-duo Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson. They’ve been making music together since the late 90s, releasing their eponymous debut in 2001 and the follow up Deep Cuts in 2004, while building up a significant following in Europe with their catchy, although unexceptional, synthpop. Their latest album Silent Shout is a significant step forward, with the siblings developing a darker, more unique sound.

The core of this sound is Karin’s voice, which has been stretched, slowed, bent, chopped and filtered, to often sinister effect, particularly when layered over equally strange soundscapes. Electronic music is typically described as cold and mechanical, but rarely is it said to be sickly. The music on Silent Shout often sounds damaged – the notes imperfect, the arpeggios and melodies a little out.

The title track opens the album and immediately sets a disquieting mood. Metallic voices describe nightmare imagery over a maddeningly squiggly synth and a single pulsating note. This note is the song’s only constant, as other sounds dance around it, move to the fore, or disappear into the background.

The following track, Neverland, is more upbeat, but similarly built around a simple theme. A wobbly little melody fades in and out around rat-a-tat percussion, over which Karin’s (almost) untreated vocals tell of ‘a fancy man’ and ‘money that burns in my hand’. Like most of the lyrics on Silent Shout they are far from straightforward, but the general feeling is one of disease and dysfunction.

The Captain begins with a long instrumental section. Single notes float and echo, merge with a deeper, more ominous sound – percussion fades in, and finally a chorus of creepy robotic-chipmunk voices.

The current single, We Share Our Mother’s Health, is a highlight. Sickly synths blink and bob over a driving dancebeat accompanied by a series of vocal melodies, the third of which finds Karin’s voice transformed into a weird baritone. The final section of the song has all three melodies coming together in some sort of bizarre robotic chant.

In Na Na Na – a kind of futuristic nursery rhyme (or anti-lullaby) – the voice and the electronics blend as one:

I’ve got soul in my bones
Got a home, a dog and a man to call my own
Every month
I’ve got my period
To take care of
And to collect in blue tampons

Invention takes a break towards the middle of the album, although, after all the weirdness it comes as a relief.

Marble House is a kind of torch song – glacial and very European, while Like A Pen is a dance tune about body image – adorned with tinny synths and tapdancing beats. The meandering From Off To On completes a trio of agreeable, yet unremarkable songs.

Silent Shout finishes strongly, however, with the last three songs among the best on the album.

Forest Families describes a family in hiding:

They said we have a communist in the family
I had to wear a mask

Over bubbling electronics Karin pleads: I just want your music tonight

One Hit is possibly the strangest song on the album. A stomping dance track (it’s been described elsewhere as ‘goblin glam’) that ‘celebrates’ masculinity, Karin’s voice warped to sound like a chorus of demonic football players.

The narrator of the haunting final track, Still Light, sings from her hospital bed over weeping string synths:

Now where is everybody?
Is it still light outside?

Given the album’s preoccupation with the damaged and diseased, and its unhealthy sound palette, it’s an appropriate place for the album to end.

Silent Shout is not a ‘happy’ record and it’s not always a pleasure to listen to, but The Knife have successfully created their own unique sound world, with its own languages, landscapes and characters. Many artists have such an aim, but few achieve it with such style and originality.

A Personal Selection (The Post-Punk Thing, Part 3)

To round off my series of articles about the post-punk era I thought I’d offer a list of my favourite post-punk and ‘new pop’ records. This is in no way an attempt at a ‘best of’ or definitive list of the period, but rather a personal reflection on the albums that made an impact on me at the time.

I’ve used Simon Reynolds’ book, Rip It Up And Start Again as a general guide in defining the post-punk/new pop period as 1978-1984, but (like Reynolds) I’ve strayed into 1985 so that I can include Scritti Politti’s second lp.

The B52s – The B52s

The first B52s album made its appearance in late 1979 when there was still a section in the local record store called ‘new wave’. The bright yellow cover still stood out among all the other retro, day-glo colours adorning the sleeves of the time. Attracted by the silliness of titles such as Planet Claire and Rock Lobster my best friend and I stood in the store and giggled over the lyric sheet.

Inspired verse: ‘Why won’t you dance with me, I ain’t no limburger?’
Recommended listening: 52 Girls

The Cure – Seventeen Seconds

This reminds me of the winter in 1980, my last year of high school. Walking the cold, wet streets at night when I should have been at home studying. I loved the watery guitar and the blurred, wintry cover. I liked the record so much that I designed a special Seventeen Seconds record label (cringe) and stuck it over the horrible Stunn Records logo.

Inspired verse: ‘I’m running towards nothing, again and again and again.’
Recommended listening: Play For Today

Joy Division – Closer

The Joy Division albums weren’t released locally until 1981, but we’d seen them in the city’s import record stores and fondled the beautiful covers lovingly. When I finally got to hear Closer I didn’t know what to make of it. The sounds were strange and unearthly, not like pop music at all.

Inspired verse: ‘Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders.’
Recommended listening: Twenty Four Hours

Talking Heads – Remain In Light

My friends and I were fans of the minimalist Talking Heads guitar pop, and reacted with horror at the news the band had expanded to include additional musicians, and was playing disco music. I remember the mix of dread and excitement when I put Remain in Light for the first time. I rang my friend in a state of confusion ‘all I can hear is bass guitars’. Of course, I grew to love the record, even if it isn’t my favourite Heads record.

Inspired verse: ‘And you may say to yourself, MY GOD! WHAT HAVE I DONE?’
Recommended listening: Crosseyed And Painless

Echo & The Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here

We were a little behind the times here in Australia and missed a lot of stuff the first time around. I bought Wilder before Kilimanjaro, October before Boy, and Heaven Up Here before Crocodiles. Again, I’m sure the cover had something to do with me buying this album – a deep blue panorama of sea and sky. Luckily, the music was just as good. Like the cover, it was dark and moody, yet there was also a subtle optimism.

Inspired verse: ‘Set sail in those turquoise days.’
Recommended listening: Show Of Strength

The Birthday Party – Prayers On Fire

I was attracted by the band’s dark sense of humour and the chaotic music, which always sounded on the verge of collapse. Songs like Zoo Music Girl and Nick The Stripper were also great for scaring the neighbours. But I was far too cowardly to go and see The Birthday Party play live. I imagined Nick Cave leaping off the stage and kicking me in the head.

Inspired verse: ‘My heart is a fish toasted by flames.’
Recommended listening: King Ink

ABC – The Lexicon Of Love

My friends and I were still listening to dark guitar bands (Public Image, Comsat Angels, Psychedelic Furs, the Bunnymen, Siouxsie) when ‘new pop’ first appeared, so listening to the Human League, Depeche Mode and ABC was something of a ‘guilty pleasure’. Dare was great, but Lexicon was even better, with its inspired meld of Roxy Music and Chic. At heart we were all ‘pop kids’.

Inspired verse: ‘What I thought was fire was only the spark.’
Recommended listening: Tears Are Not Enough

Associates – Sulk

I’d liked The Affectionate Punch and, in particular Fourth Drawer Down, but Sulk was a revelation. The shimmering pop of Side Two (Party Fears Two, Club Country) was wonderful, but it was the more ‘difficult’ Side One I really loved. Songs like Bap De La Bap and Nude Spoons sounded like they came from another planet, or some strange sub-aquatic wonderland.

Inspired verse: ‘The alcohol loves you while turning you blue.’
Recommended listening: No

Simple Minds – New Gold Dream

When Simple Minds toured in 1981 they attracted interest but not crowds. When they visited a year later, after the success of Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize, they played to a packed house. Filled with images of summer, gold and glitter, the album seemed to radiate warmth and wonderment.

Inspired verse: ‘Everything is possible.’
Recommended listening: Hunter And The Hunted

The Smiths – The Smiths

The Smiths’ second single, This Charming Man, made an immediate impression on me. The music itself was pleasant enough, a sort of jangly rockabilly, but it was the voice that grabbed my attention. And what were words like ‘handsome’, ‘charming’ and ‘miserable’ doing in a pop song? My mother was in the UK at the time, so I got her to bring back a copy of the new Smiths album, to the amusement of my relatives (‘He’s the one with the flowers!’)

Inspired verse: ‘Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.’
Recommended listening: I Don’t Owe You Anything

Scritti Politti – Cupid And Psyche 85

By 1985, my friends and I were making our own music using synthesizers and drum machines. Cupid And Psyche was the ultimate electronic pop album, filled with bubbling sequenced keyboards and imaginative rhythm tracks. We must have played it continuously for months.

Inspired verse: ‘Each time I go to bed I pray like Aretha Franklin.’
Recommended listening: Perfect Way

White Bread Black Beer – a Review

In some ways, Green Gartside, the man behind Scritti Politti, has come full circle. The original Scritti formed in the aftermath of punk, and inspired by the DIY ethos of the time, produced and released their earliest recordings, eventually seeking distribution through the Rough Trade label. Nearly thirty years later, and Scritti is back at Rough Trade, with this latest album, recorded and produced at Gartside’s home in East London. The music, however, is as far from those difficult post-punk meanderings as could be imagined.

‘White Bread Black Beer’ is Scritti’s most diverse album yet, a rich smorgasbord of sounds, from squelchy dub reggae to Beatlesque electro-folk. Opening track, and first single, ‘The Boom Boom Bap’, is Green’s ode to hip hop. It begins with his unmistakable falsetto whispered sweetly over tinkling keyboards. The music builds over a series of verses, before finishing as it began, with a whisper – ‘I love you still… I always will.’

‘Snow in Sun’ features rhythm guitar and toy-like chime sounds. It’s almost reminiscent of Andy Partridge’s songwriting in mood and sentiment.

…And you will never be without me
You will never need to doubt me
There’ll be something good about me soon
Like sun in the city snow
Like snow in the city sun.

But, like most of the songs on the album, ‘Snow in Sun’ doesn’t conform to the usual verse-chorus-verse structure. After a reprise of the opening vocal section, the song segues into an electro-funk fadeout.

Album centrepiece ‘Dr Abernathy’ (a descendent of the Beatles’ ‘Dr Robert’) is another example of Green’s playful approach to song structure on ‘White Bread’. It begins and ends with gently strummed guitar and sweet harmonies, but in between is a stomping rock song, complete with crunching riffs (and whistling!).

‘Mrs. Hughes’ opens with Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies, proceeds with some melancholy guitar and McCartney-esque moments, before concluding with a funky coda, over which Green confesses – ‘I’ve been a bad bad man, done some very wicked thing, oh baby, been a bad bad man.’

‘Throw’ and ‘E Eleventh Nuts’ are reggae-tinged pop tunes, while ‘Locked’ (apparently written for Kylie Minogue) is a shimmering love ballad.

Darling I will keep you with me
In ribbons and in bows
In ways you’ll never show…
…a game that only you and I can know,
I’ll turn and lock the door – and you’ll be there…

One of the highlights is closing track ‘Robin Hood’. If it wasn’t for the squelchy electronic rhythms you’d swear it was an summer hit from the early 70s, complete with ‘ba-ba-ba’s and ‘woo-hoo’s.

I been longing too long a time
I dream of ending these dreams
Of mine, of hope, for love for evermore
Just to, adore and be adored, the need for someone new

‘White Bread Black Beer’ is probably Scritti’s most intimate and straightforward album. There are no references to Derrida or Marxism, no guest rappers or trumpet players. It’s just Gartside and his songs. After three decades in the music business – from post-punk to new pop to hip hop – Green Gartside seems relaxed and comfortable and quite happy doing whatever comes to him.

It sounds like a pretty good place to be.

Sweaty Brows and Sticky Floors

On Sunday night I joined the crush of music fans assembled to see New York art-punk trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Governer Hindmarsh hotel. I arrived late, but still managed to see most of the support band’s long set. Sydney’s Van She (what a horrible name!) are an Interpol/Bravery/Cut Copy hybrid playing radio-friendly rock songs. Unfortunately, the songs themselves were pretty dull, although it was refreshing to see a live band featuring a synthesizer so prominently in the mix.

Somehow, during the break, I found myself surrounded by some of the tallest people in Adelaide. I’d had a good view of Van She, but suddenly couldn’t see the stage at all. It was too late (and far too crowded) to move, so I had to make the best of things. By tilting my head to the side and leaning back slightly, I could just see the front of the stage as Karen O and the guys bounced into view. Karen was wearing a multi-coloured leotard and scarves of tinsel, and her face was decorated with ‘warpaint’. She gave a throat-shredding yowl and they were off…

The band was loud and fast and tight, ripping through razor-sharp versions of ‘Y Control’, ‘Black Tongue’ and ‘Man’. There were plenty of songs from ‘Show Your Bones’ too, although these tended to vary in quality. Some of the heavier tunes like ‘Phenomena’ and ‘Honeybear’ suited an abrasive live approach. But the band struggled when a lighter touch was required. ‘Gold Lion’ started tentatively, while ‘Turn Into’ was a bit of a mess. Even Karen O seemed to struggle when required to sing rather than scream.

It was a very physical performance – Karen O skipped and bounded across the stage like a crazed marionette, a mad grin on her paint-smeared face. Nick writhed and shuddered like a guitarist possessed, while Brian attacked the drums with an effortless precision. For some of the set a fourth musician joined them, lending additional guitar and keyboards to the newer songs.

The show was over too soon – only a dozen or so songs – and we were ejected, blinking and sweaty, out into the drizzling rain. My ears were still ringing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs when I got home.

I went back to the Gov to see Death Cab For Cutie on Monday night. Surprisingly, it was even more crowded than the previous night. Unlike the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which seemed to attract a lot of young females, the audience for Death Cab was dominated by serious-looking twenty-something-year-old boys. I found myself in the midst of a group of boys who looked so similar they might have been members of a club. (Maybe they were!) All of them wore the same disheveled coconut hairstyle and brown vinyl jackets. They were also all very tall and positioned themselves in front of me like a wall. Once again, I was left to view the band by looking over shoulders, under arms, around big shaggy heads.

Death Cab opened with ‘Different Names For The Same Thing’, which started quietly with just Ben on keyboards and Chris adding guitar effects. Then, as the song progressed, drummer, Jason, and bass player, Nicholas, joined them. The band then moved swiftly through a polished set of songs, which featured generous slabs of their last two albums. Highlights included a moving rendition of ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’, which got most of the crowd singing along, and an extended, extra percussive version of ‘We Looked Like Giants’.

Hardcore fans expecting a lot of older material would have been disappointed, as these were few and far between (only two or three songs at most). But given the cheers greeting songs like ‘The New Year’ and ‘Marching Bands Of Manhattan’, I can only assume that few would have been unhappy. Otherwise, there was little to complain about. The sound was pretty good, the performances energetic and the atmosphere warm (actually too warm) and welcoming.

So how did I feel after two nights of rock ‘n’ roll at the Gov? Exhausted? Bored? Apart from the fact that couldn’t see anything for most of the time (I need to grow a few inches or wear platforms) I had a good time. Although it was a relief to get out into the fresh, clean, unsweaty air, and to walk on a surface to which my shoes did not stick.

North By North West – a Review (The Post-Punk Thing, Part 2)

When bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash toured during the zenith of the punk phenomenon in the mid 70s they left a trail of inspired youth in their wake. The Sex Pistols effect on the music scene of Manchester has been well documented, most recently in Michael Winterbottom’s ’24 Hour Party People’. It is said that two concerts by the band in mid 1976 effectively gave birth to the Manchester post punk scene that would eventually include The Fall, Magazine, Joy Division, The Smiths and others.

In nearby Liverpool, a concert by The Clash brought about a similar reaction, inspiring people like Ian Broudie, Bill Drummond, Julian Cope, Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch to start their own punk bands. More colorful and flamboyant than the dour Manchester scene, the Liverpool bands included Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, Big In Japan, Orchestral Manouvres In The Dark, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and others.

A new collection compiled (appropriately) by former NME journalist, Paul Morley, celebrates these two centres of post punk activity. Spread over three cds, the collection, entitled ‘North By North West’, devotes one disc each to Manchester and Liverpool, while the ‘limited edition’ third disc contains a selection of tracks from both cities.

For those already familiar with the era, the Manchester disc might not hold too many surprises, with tracks like Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’, New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ and The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now’ having already been regularly anthologised. For me, the treats on this disc are ‘My Cherry Is In Sherry’ by Ludus and ‘Work’ by The Blue Orchids. Also of interest is the grim synth-laden ‘Fear’ by The Passage.

The Liverpool disc includes two Bunnymen tracks, The Teardrop Explodes, OMD and Frankie, but also lesser-known acts like The Pale Fountains (fronted by Shack’s Michael Head), Lori And The Chameleons and electro outfit Dalek I Love You, as well as a fabulous tune by Care, the ‘band’ formed by Ian Broudie and Paul Simpson (Wild Swans, Teardrop Explodes).

The third disc (‘Liverchest’) contains an assortment of curios and treasures – Section 25, Swamp Children, Pink Industry, Stockholm Monsters, China Crisis, along with Big In Japan’s signature tune, and a very early track by Manchester pop band, James. This disc probably contains the least essential music of the three, although in some ways, it’s also the most interesting. After all, it’s not often you get to hear Those Naughty Lumps (Cope, Drummond and co) sing something called ‘Iggy Pop’s Jacket’

The accompanying booklet is filled with Morley’s idiosyncratic (some would say annoyingly pretentious) ramblings, although among the nonsense is plenty of interesting anecdote and detail. This snippet about Zoo Records guru Bill Drummond is one of my favourites:

Drummond, who was like Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton and Martin Hannett in one, would tell Julian Cope that a good way to increase record sales was to kill himself. When he was questioned about the point of a Bunnymen tour of bizarre and apparently random sites, Drummond’s response was, ‘It’s not random, if you look at a map of the world, the whole tour’s in the shape of a rabbit’s ears.”

All in all, it’s a nicely compiled and well-presented package, celebrating a particularly fertile region of post punk UK. It’s also essential listening for anyone with an interest in the music of the era.

One Minute Music Reviews 2

An overview of the most interesting new albums to come my way in the last three months.

Calexico – Garden Ruin

On their most straightforward album yet, Calexico ditch the Latin instrumentals and concentrate on producing polished pop/rock songs. Long-time fans missing the mariachi horns will find some solace in ‘Roka’ or ‘Nom de Plume’ with its whispered Gainsbourg-like vocals. Elsewhere there’s the light touch of ‘Bisbee Blue’ or feedback-drenched album-closer ‘All Systems Red’. (4/5)

Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country

This Scottish indie-pop ensemble creeps out from the shadow of mentors Belle & Sebastian to produce their strongest collection yet. Swedish producer, Jari Haapalainen, has given the band a bigger sound and plenty of atmosphere. First single ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken’ is a highlight. (3.5/5)

Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

The last few months have seen a flurry of new albums by female singer-songwriters – Beth Orton, Jenny Lewis, Chan Marshall. This is probably the best of the lot. Case’s voice is commanding; the songs have a haunting, timeless quality, while her lyrics evoke a mysterious twilight world. (4/5)

The Fiery Furnaces – Bitter Tea

The Friedberger siblings have perfected the art of sabotaging perfectly good songs with bizarre tempo changes and mood swings. Their brand of prog-pop is an acquired taste, but songs like ‘Teach Me Sweetheart’ and ‘Benton Harbor Blues’ make it worth the effort. (3.5/5)

The Futureheads – News & Tributes

The second album from the UK’s Futureheads finds them still working from the same The Jam/XTC template with another collection of frenetic, stop-start pop. There is a broadening of sound, however, with some atmospheric moments (‘Burnt’), and an all-out thrash-fest (‘Return of the Beserker’). (3/5)

Howe Gelb – ‘Sno Angel Like You

Gelb’s gritty tales of hardship and lost faith are transformed by the addition of the Voices of Praise Gospel Choir. ‘That’s How Things Get Done’ and ‘Nail In The Sky’ are among the best of a fine batch of songs. The record is surely a highlight of this singer-songwriter’s long and prolific career. (4/5)

Grandaddy – Just Like The Fambly Cat

Grandaddy’s ‘farewell’ album is an understandably melancholic affair. However, there’s also evidence that the band were, indeed, running out of ideas, with the album containing more than its fair share of ‘filler’. There are still a few gems here though in songs like ‘Elevate Myself’, ‘Summer… It’s Gone’ and ‘This Is How It Always Starts’. For full review click here. (3/5)

Hot Chip – The Warning

A big leap forward for this London electro outfit, ‘The Warning’ marries the wit and warmth of their first outing with great tunes and infectious grooves. Songs like ‘Over And Over’ and ‘Boy From School’ will fill the dance floor, while ‘Look After Me’ and ‘Breakdown’ are more reflective in mood. (4/5)

Mates Of State – Bring It Back

This husband-and-wife duo work wonders with a limited range of sounds – voice, organ and drums. It’s the vocal tricks that provide the magic though, with the wondrous harmonies giving the songs an almost celebratory feel. (3.5/5)

Morrissey – Ringleader Of The Tormentors

Morrissey has built on the success of ‘comeback’ album ‘You Are The Quarry’ with his strongest, most assured set of songs since ‘Vauxhall And I’. Recorded in Rome with legendary producer, Tony Visconti, ‘Ringleader’ is full of passion and drama and features a rich blend of sounds, including a children’s choir and strings arranged by Ennio Morricone. For full review click here. (4/5)

The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers

Brendan Benson’s pop sensibilities meet Jack White’s take on the blues to create an enjoyable collection of 60s flavoured tunes. (I actually like this a lot more than the White Stripes last effort!) Standout tracks include single ‘Steady As She Goes’ and the Beatlesque ‘Yellow Sun’. (4/5)

TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain

The oddly-titled ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’ is a progression for this New York art band in every sense. There is a greater variety in sound and mood, while the songs are more complex and, and the same time, more accessible. For full review click here. (4.5/5)

Rip It Up And Start Again – a Review (The Post-Punk Thing, Part 1)

Every generation tends to believe the music they loved when growing up belonged to some sort of long lost and never-to-be-repeated ‘Golden Age’. The Baby Boomers talk of the ‘Summer of Love’, the Stones and the Beatles. Others might pinpoint the disco boom of the late 70s, or the grunge era of the early 90s as their particular ‘Golden Age’.

It’s sometimes difficult to know if the music we hold special is special because of its actual value as music, or its ability to remind us of our younger, happier days. I certainly remember the period when I first started listening to music seriously – the late 70s/early 80s – as a period of excitement and discovery. It seemed that every couple of weeks an exciting new band or album was surfacing – The Associates, ‘Seventeen Seconds’, Scritti Politti, ‘Heaven Up Here’, Orange Juice, The Go-Betweens, Gang Of Four, ‘Penthouse And Pavement’, The Birthday Party, Joy Division, ‘The Correct Use Of Soap’ and so on…

This period is now known as the post-punk era and, according to rock historians, it was unequivocally an ‘age of riches’. The last few years have seen an enormous amount of interest in the music and musicians of the years 1978 – 1984. There have been several books, a couple of movies/documentaries, scores of reissues, and (for better or worse) even a number of post-punk band reformations. Meanwhile, the current generation of pop kids are plundering the era for sounds and styles.

Simon Reynolds’ book ‘Rip It Up And Start Again’ has emerged as the definitive account of the post-punk era and, somewhat belatedly, a companion cd has been just been released. It says something of the wealth of the era that the album is as strong as it is without tracks from some of post-punk’s most important bands – Public Image Ltd, Gang Of Four, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Orange Juice, Wire and Magazine.

We do get some prime examples of other post-punk staples – The Fall’s ‘Fiery Jack’, Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sluggin’ For Jesus’ and Devo’s ‘Praying Hands’ each sum up the respective acts better than a few pages of text might do. There’s also The Slits, The Raincoats and the wonderful Young Marble Giants. Elsewhere the choices are a little odd. We get some middle-period Siouxsie – strings rather than shrieks – and a rather slick contribution from the B52s (the song itself is fine, but a selection from their less polished debut might have slotted in a little more comfortably).

There are representatives of the various sub-genres of post-punk – Thomas Leer, Heaven 17 and a very early Human League (minus Phil Oakey) for the electronic bands; Josef K and the Associates for the ‘Sound of Young Scotland’; The Specials for the ska revival, and John Cooper-Clarke for the…er… John Cooper-Clarke movement.

Reynolds has also slipped a couple of obscurities onto the album. I don’t know anything about Pulsallama or Fatal Microbes, and could find very little about them on the internet. The Pulsallama song included here – ‘The Devil Lives In My Husband’s Body’ – might have been the only thing they recorded. But it’s funny and clever, and fits in quite nicely alongside Cabaret Voltaire and Devo.

All in all, the album is a fabulous post-punk ‘sampler’, and a fine companion to the ‘Rip It Up’ book, despite the omission of several key acts. In fact, given the wealth of material to draw from, a double-disc set might have been in order.

One of the good things about this post-punk resurgence is that I’ve suddenly been dragging out albums I never thought I’d play again, and listening to them with renewed interest. I knew I’d been hanging onto all those A Certain Ratio and Modern English lps for some reason…