Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Timeless Melodies of the La's

Lee Mavers' obsession with the batch of songs that would eventually become the La's self-titled album (without his blessing) is the stuff of legend. There are quite a few fans obsessed with these songs too, and I count myself among them. I have the singles, album, deluxe edition of the album and a box set, all more or less dedicated to around 20 tunes. Mavers had a particular sound for these songs swirling in his head, and not even a dozen studio sessions, 10 band members, at least seven producers, three years of recording and £1 million thrown at it could give the perfectionist exactly what he wanted to put down on wax.

As you know, the label finally had enough and asked producer Steve Lillywhite to do what he could to assemble a finished product. On Oct. 1, 1990, the album was released to critical acclaim. Mavers did his part to contribute to the album's minor chart success by panning it wherever and whenever he could. He also slyly reminded everyone the only way to hear the real La's was to see them live. If you lost control of an album you put your heart and soul into for three years, perhaps you would act the same way. The only problem with that tact is the album is great. It's chock full of indie pop that sounds as good today as it was the day it came out. Always will be, too.

Mavers' obsession with these songs didn't end with the release. Here's an insightful moment found in the extensive liner notes from the 'Callin' All' box set in 2010:

Lillywhite believes the reason the La's have never made a second album is that, according to Mavers, they are yet to complete their first. "It's still going on. I have no doubt that in his mind the first album has never been made. After we finished I got a call from Johnny Marr, who excitedly told me that Lee had asked him to go into the studio as a producer. A few months later I got a desperate call from Johnny: 'Steve he just wants to re-record the old songs!'

You can't help but wonder if he's still tinkering to this day. As for fans like me, we do our own tinkering. It's quite an exercise to create our own mixes of the album from aborted sessions led by producers like Mike Hedges, John Leckie and John Porter. For instance, I'll take the single version of "There She Goes" captured by Bob Andrews over the one found on the LP. I admit overuse of the album take on every two-bit rom-com through the years may have contributed to this bias. Here is that original and a couple other favorites that seem to always pop up on my mixes via these two releases below. Enjoy.

There She Goes (original single version, Bob Andrews, producer)
Timeless Melody (Mike Hedges, producer)
Feelin' (John Leckie, producer)

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Bevy of Blooms From Fleur

I was going to post about the many charms of Fleur several months ago, but then both 7" singles and the LP sold out. Happily, everything has been repressed, and now you have what I imagine will be a small window to catch up.

Here are the vitals. Fleur is Dutch singer Floor Elman. She sings in French and is backed by Les Robots. Her songs appear on Spanish label Bickerton Records. She also fronts a band called the Colour Collection on the same label. By now, your head should be spinning. The sound of Fleur takes you back to yé-yé with a splash of '66 garage. Names popping up to describe Fleur include Les Terribles, France Gall, April March and, of course, Françoise Hardy. Yes, her voice is that good.

While we're here, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other stable of stars on Bickerton from all over the world. In particular, I'm really digging '60s-inspired Dutch band the Mocks and Americans the Premonitions. Both are on the shopping list. Bickerton has a slew of incredible reissues that will be of interest to regular readers too, from the likes of the Pandoras, Phil Seymour, the Times and many more. Take a gander at Bickerton's roster.

Back to Fleur. For those of us on this side of the pond feeling wary about ordering from Spain, Richmond-based label 6131 Records has just come to the rescue with a release of the self-titled album from 2020. If you can possibly spare the time, you can listen to the 2019 and 2020 singles as well as the album via bandcamp below. Get ready for your next obsession.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The MIDDYs: Favorite Albums

Will need to make this quick. Mom is in town for the first time since the pandemic began. Here are the 10 albums (in no particular order) I have been listening to from the first half of 2021. If you saw my pal McPop's album list in the comments section of my favorite songs post earlier this month, there won't be too many surprises below. I should add I moved the album from Holsapple & Stamey from the reissues list to this one because, frankly, it's not really a reissue and makes more sense here. I replaced it with a real prize by the Apartments. Would love to hear about the albums you have been listening to from the first half of 2021. July is off to a great start too. The new one from the Goon Sax is a real keeper.

The Reds, Pinks & Purples - 'Uncommon Weather'
The Lodger - 'Cul-De-Sac of Love'
The Catenary Wires - 'Birling Gap'
Massage - 'Still Life'
Holsapple & Stamey - 'Our Back Pages'
The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness - 'Songs From Another Life'
Quivers - 'Golden Doubt'
The Telephone Numbers - 'The Ballad of Doug'
The Chills - 'Scatterbrain'
Various - 'Something Beautiful'

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The MIDDYs: Favorite Reissues

Nancy earns the oh-so coveted graphic spot because, put simply, I have listened to her double-LP compilation more than any other reissue so far this year. 'Start Walkin'' kicks off a Sinatra reissue campaign that will have me reaching for my wallet at least a couple of more times in the coming months. In no particular order, here are my other reissued favorites from the past six months.

Various - Optic Sevens 3.0 Series
Best singles club ever! Highlights this time around included Chin-Chin, Girls at Our Best and the Clouds.

BMX Bandits - 'Star Wars' and Janice Long sessions 1986-1987
Duglas gets his due in 2021. Trifecta with 'Life Goes On' reissue due in late fall.

Nancy Sinatra - 'Start Walkin' 1965-1976'
Her version of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" just might be better than Cher's. Booklet includes fine photos and in-depth interview.

Dropkick - 'The Best of Dropkick'
Only 300 copies on vinyl missed the mark, but that's the lone complaint. Turns out the older material was as good as recent albums.

Stereolab - 'Electrically Possessed [Switched On Vol. 4]'
Collection of mostly 21st century odds and ends has proven I should have been paying attention beyond the '90s.

Linda Smith - 'Till Another Time: 1988-1996'
Took a punt on this lo-fi charmer because of my complete trust in anything put out by Captured Tracks. Rewarded once again.

The Clean - 'Mister Pop' and 'Unknown Country'
Merge continues to mine the band's discography for a grateful American audience. LPs from 2009 and 1996 get a vinyl upgrade.

Remember Fun - 'Contentment'
The secret is out. This band and the Church Grims are two of the best janglers you never heard of to ever come out of Scotland.

Oh-OK - 'The Complete Reissue'
Back in print after a decade! Linda and Lynda... unsung heroes from the famed DB Recs' stable once again resurrected by HHBTM.

Martin Newell - 'The Off White Album'
Louis Philippe inspired like Andy Partridge did on predecessor 'The Greatest Living Englishman' with similarly satisfying results.

Various - 'Nice Try, Sunshine!'
Fourteen (mostly) obscure indie-pop bands straight outta Sweden get a new lease on life.

The Verlaines - 'Live at the Windsor Castle, Auckland, May 1986'
The title says it all, doesn't it? Flying Nun vets perfrom an entire show during the band's salad days.

The Replacements - 'Pleased to Meet Me Outtakes & Alternates'
Always liked the album but not quite enough to buy the expensive deluxe edition. This RSD release was the perfect solution.

The Apartments - 'A Life Full of Farewells'
Was always late to this band's charms. Catching up with the '90s era due to a vinyl press from French label Talitres.

The Loft - 'Ghost Trains & Country Lanes – Studio, Stage And Sessions 1984-2015'
Time to trade in your copies of 'Once Around the Fair' and 'Magpie Eyes.' As the title implies, this is those comps plus a whole lot more.

Jasmine Minks - John Peel session 1986 and Janice Long session 1986
New label Precious Recordings of London have proven they know how to assemble something special. BBC sessions from Blueboy are up next.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The MIDDYs: Favorite Songs

I know you have been marking your calendars and waiting for this moment with bated breath. Without further ado, here are my favorite songs (in no particular order) from the first half of the year. Albums and reissues will follow. Extra points to the first reader who identifies the undeserving Grammy winner above.

A few of these picks will feel like old friends. After a stint with Terry Chambers as TC&I, Colin Moulding had, seemingly, given it all up. Yet, here he is, one of the stars of the beloved XTC, with his first solo single. Before this year, I had not bought an album from Teenage Fanclub since 'Howdy' more than 20 years ago. Although 'Endless Arcade' probably won't make my list, there are bright spots. These days, Crowded House are mostly a family affair plus Mitchell Froom, and it's great to have one of my favorite songwriters back at it. Speaking of long-awaited comebacks, Acid House Kings have given us their first new music in a decade. A couple of names that may surprise you are Jim McCulloch of Soup Dragons and Rachel Love from Dolly Mixture. These new sounds are worlds away from their old bands, but the quality is there in spades.

A quick word about Verandan. That's Ville Hopponen's latest project. You will know him best from Cats on Fire. How often do you mourn the loss of that band? Amelia and Rob are on the list twice, first with Hue Williams, formerly of Pooh Sticks, as Swansea Sound. I didn't include any songs from albums that will make my MIDDYs list, but the Catenary Wires are here with a recent cover of the Mamas and the Papas that my family has been listening to obsessively. If you have paid attention to past lists on these pages, just about everyone else has appeared here before except Hadda Be. The Scottish band has received plenty of favorable press, and I will agree album 'Another Life' has its moments. What are your favorite songs from 2021 so far?

Colin Moulding - "The Hardest Battle"
The Goon Sax - "Make Time 4 Love"
Massage - "Michael Is My Girlfriend"
The Umbrellas - "She Buys Herself Flowers"
Teenage Fanclub - "Home"
Crowded House - "To the Island"
Gruff Rhys - "Loan Your Loneliness"
A Certain Ratio - "Keep It Together"
Red Sleeping Beauty (featuring Mary Wyer) - "Second Time"
Acid House Kings - "A Little Dancing"
Jim McCulloch - "When I Mean What I Say"
Verandan - "Hideaway"
Stephen's Shore - "Brisbane Radio"
Real Numbers - "Brighter Then"
Boyracer - "Bulletproof"
NAH... - "Airy Day"
Rachel Love - "Primrose Hill"
Swansea Sound - "Indies of the World"
Hadda Be - "Another Life"
Ducks Ltd. - "As Big as All Outside"
The Catenary Wires - "California Dreamin'"

Friday, June 18, 2021

Can't-Miss Release From the Catenary Wires

I'm interrupting my family vacation, quite happily, to remind you indie popsters today marks the official release of 'Birling Gap,' the third album from the Catenary Wires. If you're here, you no doubt already adore Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey in all of their musical incarnations, from Talulah Gosh to Tender Trap and everything in between. The Catenary Wires began as just the two of them, bedsit style, with 2015 mini-album 'Red Red Skies.' I fell hard for this melancholy stripped-down approach, at the time calling the duo indie pop's answer to Johnny and June. I say without an ounce of hyperbole "When You Walk Away" is my most listened to song of the 21st century. I know every strum, syllable and sigh. What I really like best about the album, though is Pursey emerging from the shadows to share the spotlight with Fletcher.

It would be four long years before follow-up 'Til the Morning,' and this time there would be a full band pulling out all of the stops. There is an array of instrumentation on the album, including even brass, and top-notch production would come from Andy Lewis. Lewis plays quite a bit on the album as well, and he, along with Fay Hallam and Ian Button, hit upon something, a chemistry that is palpable to the listener in much the same way as Heavenly at the band's peak.

Lucky for us, this core has stuck together, and they have grown immensely as a unit on 'Birling Gap.' All it takes is one listen to the singles "Mirrorball" and "Face On The Rail Line" to hear the Catenary Wires are going to take us on a vast and varied journey this time around. If you know this place, the album title and cover alone tells you this will be an ominous and distinctly English adventure but with universal messages. There is still a moment or two that may remind you of 'Red Red Skies,' but most of these songs sound more complex and worlds away from lo-fi. Don't expect this one to be a grower either. The harmonies will give you goosebumps right out of the chute. In short, every note and word works, from the mostly sad and anxious to the occasionally sweet and amiable. As we near the halfway point of 2021, in a year chock full of impressive releases, 'Birling Gap' is the best album I have heard so far.

In America, pick up 'Birling Gap' on the always reliable Shelflife label. For the UK and the rest of the world, purchase your copy on Amelia and Rob's own recently launched Skep Wax Records. In case my fawning hasn't been enough, here are a couple of videos to give you another nudge. Oh, and here's yet another... Don't miss more on the album during one of those famed Twitter listening parties of the great Tim Burgess coming up on June 21st.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

'The First Year Plan'

Time for another vital label compilation from my youth. With the advent of deluxe editions and such, I suppose FAST Product's 1979 collection 'The First Year Plan' isn't looked at in quite the same way, but these FAST releases used to be tough to find... especially if you were a kid growing up among the cornfields of Illinois. Take, for instance, FAST alumni the Human League. If you lived close to a cool record shop, maybe, you could find FAST singles. Today, you can pick up a CD reissue of 1979 album 'Reproduction' and get the "Being Boiled"/"Circus of Death" and "The Dignity of Labour Parts 1-4" releases as bonus tracks and, at least where I live, have it delivered to your home same day, all for about $12. Progress? I guess so, but not nearly as fun.

As usual, I'm off the subject. If you haven't seen Grant McPhee's 'Big Gold Dream: The Sound of Young Scotland 1977-1985,' the documentary featuring Edinburgh's FAST and Glasgow's Postcard labels, you really should. FAST founders Bob Last and Hilary Morrison feature prominently, as well as many of the other major players.

I found 'The First Year Plan' in a used record store in the mid-'80s. Inexplicably, my copy came from Australia, and it doesn't even say 'The First Year Plan' anywhere on it. What I didn't know until years later is there was a similar sampler for the North American market that came out in 1980 on the Passport/PVC labels called 'Mutant Pop 78/79.' The only difference between it and 'The First Year Plan' was the addition of two songs from Edinburgh post-punk band the Flowers and the omission of the second single from the Mekons. I think the cover is so well done if I come across it on my travels, I will snag it in an instant.

The bands on FAST hailed from Northern England and Scotland. Many of them on 'The First Year Plan' would go on to bigger and better things. I'll let you opine on the bands that actually peaked on FAST. I am of the opinion FAST-era songs "Love Like Anthrax" and "Damaged Goods" improved significantly (especially the production) on Gang of Four's album 'Entertainment!' In my younger days, I was never all that chuffed about Sheffield band 2-3, but when I ripped this album the other day it was as if I had never heard them before. Now I can't stop listening. Unfortunately, for them, they are known more for their role in introducing the Human League to Last than their own music. And what can you say about the Human League that hasn't already been said? Even Last knew there was something there and took the band's offer to manage them when they moved to Virgin. He knew when to give up the position too. Scars came and went in a heartbeat, but they did leave us with 'Author! Author!' post FAST. I picked up the deluxe edition earlier this year after reader Jonder mentioned its release in the comments section late last year. Highly recommended. Then there is the Mekons. The band took quite a turn stylistically in the mid-'80s, but their new sound worked for me. I enjoy it all.

Let's listen to some of this "difficult fun," as FAST used to describe the music. Starting with the Mekons "pissing out the noise" on their debut single is a must.

The Mekons - Never Been In A Riot
Scars - Horrorshow
The Human League - Being Boiled
2-3 - All Time Low

I'm going to be out most of the rest of the month, but I hope to check in on Friday with a quick reminder about a new release you really should pick up. Until then, be good, popsters.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Dig Deep for Doc on Lasses of Scottish Pop

Light bulb. Genius. Director Miranda Stern envisions a "feature-length documentary celebrating the songs, stories and journey of Scotland's all girl-bands from 1960 to 2010." Stern has a hell of a start on this thing already, but she needs more cash to see this one come to fruition. C'mon. You know you want to see it. The Ettes. Sophisticated Boom Boom. Strawberry Switchblade. There's still time to kick in for 'Since Yesterday: The Unsung Pioneers of Scottish Pop.' Click here for Kickstarter, whet your appetite with a little video taster of things to come, then click on the button marked "back this project." Easy. Think how those buttons on your jacket will pop as you watch the documentary on a screen near you.

Strawberry Switchblade - Secrets (Peel Session, 1982)
Sophisticated Boom Boom - The Only One (Live)

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Early Edition of The Times

A new pal of mine mentioned the Times to me the other day. In 12 years of blogging, I have never had a post on Ed Ball's band. Time to right this blatant wrong. Unfortunately, my record collection is limited to Ball's work on those early albums with Dan Treacy in Television Personalities and, at about the same time, his first few albums he recorded as the Times.

Both the Television Personalities and the Times have had a mess of 21st century reissues that have had me pulling out these relics. One in particular, a 7" reissue of "Red With Purple Flashes" that came out last year, had me obsessed. I loved watching the Whaam! label spinnning 'round on the turntable, and it stayed on the platter for weeks. If you're new to the Times, those early records are mod, share traits with your favorites from the Jam and the Creation and, to these Yankee ears, sound about as British as you can get. If you're from North America and love the Kinks, you'll understand what I mean about that Brit feeling.

Confession time. I have an ulterior motive in bringing up Ed Ball. There are really two chapters to The Times. After '86, Ball went on a sabatical of sorts by shuttering his Artpop! label (for a while) and taking a job at Creation Records. A couple of years later, Ball resurrected the Times on Creation with a different sound. It seems Ball decided to "go with the times" and record synth-driven dance-floor fillers. Is this an apt description? Too simplistic? I don't really know this era, but my friend mentioned "Manchester," and that's a song from the Creation years that has me investigating. I need some help, indie-pop fans. Should I be looking into these later years of the Times? What about some of his other bands, such as Teenage Filmstars, 'O' Level, Love Corporation and Conspiracy of Noise? I know there are some releases under his own name too. Where should I start? What's vital? There are a couple of comps out there covering much of Ball's career. Are these any good?

While you're pondering those questions, let's listen to some of my favorite songs from chapter one of the Times. Here are two songs from each of my three favorite albums. I have a particular affinity for 'This Is London.' A couple of things to know: Dan Treacy was in the band for 'Pop Goes Art! It was released on Whaam! This was the first LP release, but it was not the first album finished. 'Go! With the Times' was released in '85 but recorded in '80.

Biff! Bang! Pow! (from 'Pop Goes Art!' 1982)
I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape (from 'Pop Goes Art!' 1982)
Goodbye Piccadilly (from 'This is London,' 1983)
Whatever Happened to Thamesbeat? (from 'This is London,' 1983)
Red With Purple Flashes (from 'Go! With the Times,' 1985)
My Andy Warhol Poster (from 'Go! With the Times,' 1985)

Friday, June 4, 2021

The Spirit of Radio

While in the car, I heard these two songs back to back on KEXP the other day and thought for sure I knew where the DJ would be going as the trifecta. Alas, I was wrong. He started with "Glorious" from grossly underrated shoegazers Adorable, led by Pete Fijalkowski. Not sure why this wasn't a single. If you lived in the UK or Japan, the song kicked off debut album 'Against Perfection.' Came out in '93 on Creation Records. Some people hear "Bone Machine" by Pixies. Do you hear that? I don't, but I do think Interpol, in the early days, may have been into this song. The following version is about 30 seconds shorter than the album version. The intro is taken out and gets right to it. Can be found on band comp 'Footnotes 92-94.'


Next up was "I Don't Know Why I Love You" by the House of Love. This is probably their best known song on this side of the Atlantic. Still gets played quite a bit on nostagic alt radio stations. It came out on their first album for Fontana. No, not as good as that brilliant debut album for Creation, but it does have its moments. By this time, cracks in the band were showing, and Terry Bickers would leave the mess behind after this one. Opening lyrics still make me guffaw. "I don't know why I love you, your face is a hammer in my head, I remember every word you said, I just don't know why I love you, I don't know why I care, I never even liked your hair, I feel like a seventh heir, but I don't know why I love you..."

I Don't Know Why I Love You

As I was listening, in my mind, I was anticipating something by the duo Pete Fij & Terry Bickers to follow these two great songs. I have never heard anything by them together on a radio station, and I was pretty excited at the prospect. I thought for sure the DJ would come on after this trio of songs and tell us all about what these two have been up to in the 21st century. It really stuck in my craw. I'm here today to right this wrong. Please imagine the following in a DJ voice: "From the 2014 album 'Broken Heart Surgery,' here are Pete Fij and Terry Bickers, addicted to love by the sound of this one, with 'Betty Ford.'"

Betty Ford

Ah, that's better. Note to self. Look for their 2017 album 'We Are Millionaires.' Several years ago my pal (and quite possibly yours too) the Swede sent me a note about 'Broken Heart Surgery' being up my alley. He was so right. It's the type of recommendation that would have never happened without our little community here. For that, I am thankful. As for any bad feelings toward KEXP for missing this golden opportunity, I'm exaggerating, of course. Hearing Adorable and and the House of Love back to back was the best six minutes of radio I had heard in a long time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

'Big Noise' From Manchester

I'm over the moon about seeing the name Mike West today over at Charity Chic Music. CC has highlighted a couple of songs from West's 21st century Americana outfit Truckstop Honeymoon, and it was a delight to hear his voice again. If you ever wondered whether you can take Manchester out of the man, the answer is a resounding yes. Since his move to America in the '90s, West has developed a bona fide Kansas twang.

Since reading about Truckstop Honeymoon this morning, I have taken out my records from his much earlier band, the Man From Delmonte. You regulars may remember me digging deep with a series on them in 2018, but there is one album I didn't highlight. 'Big Noise' is a live recording from their home away from home, legendary Manchester club the Boardwalk, circa Jan. 13, 1989. It was released on Manchester-based label Bop Cassettes that same year. If that label sounds familiar, it may because of their famous 'Manchester North of England' compilation that came out in 1988 and featured the likes of James, Bradford, Pepplekade 14, Inspiral Carpets, the Waltones, the Railway Children and the aforementioned Man From Delmonte.

'Big Noise' was reissued by Vinyl Japan in 2000 at about the same time as they released a couple of compilations on the Man From Delmonte that gathered singles, radio sessions and other odds and ends presented as 'The Good Things in Life,' parts 1 and 2. Highly recommended. On with the show... ripped from vinyl moments ago. Thanks for the inspiration, CC.

The Good Things in Life
Big Noise
(Will Nobody Save) Louise
Lasha Me

Thursday, May 20, 2021

NB Is For New Boyracer

Big day, indie-pop fans! This is our first chance to hear a track from Boyracer's impending long player, and it's a cracker. Already, I can hear yourself asking, who are Stewart's partners in crime this time? If you have been paying attention, surprisingly, there are no surprises. Christina Riley makes a triumphant return after hanging around since 2019 and knocking it out of the park on 2020 album 'On a Promise.' When a band boasts 50-plus members since its inception, that makes her a bona fide veteran. Riley's guitar soars, but it's the way her voice melds with Stewart's that makes this duo such a sweet treat. Matty Green returns as well, and you no doubt remember that name from the band's salad days on Sarah and Slumberland.

Mark your calendars. Boyracer's 14th album, 'Assuaged,' hits the shelves on July 5 via Stewart's own Emotional Response label. (If I may digress, has his label been any stronger? Stewart's stable of stars have littered my recent year-end lists with the likes of Seablite, Mick Trouble, Even As We Speak, the Ocean Party, Blues Lawyer, the Bachelor Pad and a slew of Sarah reissues, to name just a few off the top of my head.) To whet your appetite for the album, Boyracer gives us a whole mess of hard-nosed jangle on "Bulletproof." A little more pop than punk on this one, it ought to come with a warning because this song is a real earworm. Don't expect to get much done today. I'm proud to premiere "Bulletproof" this morning with a handful of other like-minded indie-pop outlets.

For those of us of an, ahem, certain age, it's popular thinking "B Is For Boyracer" and the Sarah era is the band at its best. Hey, I love that early stuff too, but could this be conjecture? Stew and Christina have something pretty special going on right now, and there is plenty of room on this bandwagon. Climb aboard. Boyracer remains a riveting ride.