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.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

An Encore to That Party From the Pooh Sticks

Picking up where we left off last time, in 1991, the Pooh Sticks one upped the 53rd & 3rd release of live album 'Orgasm' with a deluxe edition of sorts (before we knew the term) by putting out 'Multiple Orgasm' (get it?) on their original home, Steve Gregory's Swansea label Fierce Recordings. Side A of the album was the show featured in the last post. Side B contained 10 unreleased songs recorded in 1988. I'll let the notes from the back cover of 'Multiple Orgasm' fill in the details, but you'll see the plan was to duplicate the box set of their earlier single releases.

Songs 10-19 are studio recordings made by the Pooh Sticks over the two weekends immediately following [the perfomance on Side A]. Originally planned as "Multiple Orgasm", a boxed set of five 7" 45s ("Cinnamon"/"Do Something to Me"; "Saturday Night's The Big Night"/"It's a Good Day For A Parade"; "Do It Again (A Little Bit Slower)"/"Goody Goody Gumdrops"; "Force Fed By Love"/"Tear The Roof Right Off My Head"; "Just Another Minute"/"When The Night Falls) to follow up the successful "Alan McGee" set, the release was cancelled in favour of the 53rd & 3rd album.

A couple of the 10 songs would show up later in the '90s as B-sides to singles, but for the most part, "Multiple Orgasm" would be the only place you could pick up these rare tracks. I'll let you be the judge as to whether they should have been made more readily available, but I will say they aren't quite to the standard of the five singles in the "Alan McGee" box. Still enjoyable, nonetheless. Here a few of my favorites.

Saturday Night's the Big Night
Do It Again (A Little Bit Slower)
Goody Goody Gumdrops

Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Party With the Pooh Sticks

I finally got a hold of a physical copy of "Indies of the World," the latest single from indie-pop all-star band Swansea Sound featuring Hue Williams, Amelia Fletcher, Rob Pursey and Ian Button. You will want to seek this one out. As expected, the purchase also has my turntable busy with those early releases by the Pooh Sticks.

'Orgasm' is a live album released initially on the legendary 53rd & 3rd label. The show was recorded on Sept. 17, 1988, in Trudi Tangerine's basement. Trudi may or may not have been a member of the band. Honestly, I don't know. There is quite a bit of ambiguity surrounding personnel. What I do know is Trudi can write. Trudi's liner notes accompanying the Optic Nerve reissue of the 1988 box set of the five singles immediately following debut "On Tape" is a hell of a read.

'Orgasm' has the same vibe as Beach Boys' Party!' You feel as if you're eavesdropping on a few pals hanging out. There is a lot of banter between songs which made ripping the songs into individual tracks for today's post a challenge. Here are those five one-sided singles from the box set performed live. Sounds like a good time was had by all. More on the Pooh Sticks circa 1988 next time.

I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well (Live)

Heroes and Villains (Live)

Indiepop Ain't Noise Pollution (Live)

1-2-3 Red Light (Live)

Heartbreak (Live)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Show Review Sends Chills

New Zealand correspondent Duncan has been to a show. Yes, a show. He's going to use terms like Indian summer and being out on a patio too. Let's control our envy and imagine a time when we are all seeing our favorite bands together again. Take it away, Duncan...

The Chills
Meow Club
7 May 2021

Friday treats us to a rare, warm Wellington autumn evening, and we're all determined to enjoy this last vestige of an Indian summer. The crowd has spilled out onto the Meow Club's patio and the road, as people enjoy a drink or two before the show. This is my third time seeing Martin Phillips (either with or without his Chills) in the last four years, and it would be easy to start taking the band for granted. But tonight they are simply excellent. In fact, I'd rate this the most enjoyable Chills show I've ever been too. It's one of those evenings where everything seemed to come together perfectly: the company of good friends, a great venue and terrific sound.

We are still discussing the big important issues of the day, like why Martin has given his last 12 LPs titles with the initials S.B., when the band finally emerge. The stage tonight is banked by shelves of books and antique radiograms. Very appropriate. The show's a sell-out, and the place is heaving. Martin looks resplendent in a lovely blue shirt and his bright red Gibson semi-acoustic. It's great to see him looking so healthy and happy and after all the years of illness and mental health issues.

Bathed in deep-blue light, the Chills set off with the customary opener, "The Night of Chill Blue", which still somehow manages to tingle the spine after all these years. As I look across to my friend Andrew, he points out that we are stood next to the minister of finance. It's moments like this that make living here in Aotearoa so special; I mean, how many other countries would you find yourself dancing and singing along to an 80s indie band with a senior government minister?

I think it's fair to say the band play it safe tonight. The first part of the show is packed with favourites:"'Bad Sugar", "Wet Blanket", a ferocious "Oncoming Day", and peaking with an exhilarating rush through the peaks and crests of "Male Monster From the Id". The band are on fine form, and playing with huge confidence. We get a smattering of new songs ("Little Alien", "Destiny", "Monolith"), of which "You're Immortal" is the real stand-out. Perhaps as close to an epic as Marty has penned, the song is lifted further by the addition of electric violin from Erica and trumpet from new bassist Callum, I'm transported to a world of pale fountains, orange skies and exploding teardrops. More of this please, Mr Phillips.

And then we're back to the hits. And although tonight's versions of "Kaleidoscope World" and "Pink Frost" are a bit flat, missing the brittle fragility of the originals, by the time "Heavenly Pop Hit" and "Leather Jacket" have the whole crowd dancing and wildly singing along, all is forgotten and a big grin is splashed across my face.

If I have any gripes, they are minor. Martin doesn't include any of his more more esoteric or interesting songs (highlights of recent shows have been unexpected treats like "Satin Doll" and "Lost In Space"), and yet again they don't play any of my personal favourites ("Flame Thrower", "House With A Hundred Rooms", or the eternally magnificent "Dan Destiny and the Silver Dawn"). But hey, you can't have everything! They encore as always with a celebratory romp through "Rolling Moon". It simply wouldn't be a Chills gig if it didn't end with everyone joyously singing along to, "Please, O God, don't take us home".

As the crowd reluctantly departs into the night, everyone is buzzing: We all seem to agree that this was a very special show. And so I walk home, whistling the refrain to "Rolling Moon" and feeling very lucky indeed to be alive and living here in Wellington, 2021.

The Chills' new LP, 'Scatterbrain', is available from Fire Records.


Thanks, Duncan. Wish I could have been there. It doesn't look like anyone has posted any clips from this show yet, but we can still enjoy a live song from recent times. New one "Destiny" was played at the Festival of Lights 2021 in New Plymouth, NZ. Enjoy.

Friday, May 7, 2021

'90s Power Pop! Schwing!

Sup. Did you catch that '90s phrase? I don't think the '90s were fly, as the kids used to say, and haven't had many nice things to say about that time on these pages. The decade did, however, produce some of my favorite power pop. Acts like the Sugarplastic, Wondermints, Matthew Sweet, Velocity Girl, Velvet Crush, Jellyfish (and its many offshoots) are just a few off the top of my head that had their finest moments, but I'm going to dig a little deeper because all of those bands have made appearances here before. The following are taken from the third volume of Rhino's excellent 'Poptopia' series that came out in 1997. This CD was always great in the car because there was no filler and was best listened to loudly. Highly recommended. If you don't like it, talk to the hand. Are you hating these '90s phrases yet?

If, like me, you worship at the altar of Big Star, you're going to dig Idle Wilds because it's clear this Philly outfit did as well. The band was on the Ardent label, the same one that released Big Star's albums, and Jody Stephens was even their A&R man. Alas, all of that Big Star mojo wasn't enough to crawl out of obscurity, and Idle Wilds called it quits very quickly. It was many years before Big Star became appreciated by the masses. Perhaps it can happen for Idle Wilds too. As if!

You're All Forgiven

I may have found another reason to dislike the '90s... ugly album covers. These last two have been pretty awful, eh? I have nice memories of listening to Baltimore band the Greenberry Woods when 'Rapple Dapple' came out in '94. The guy who owned the record store I was working at was crazy about them, and we played it to death. These guys had everything going for them. They were signed to Sire and had opening slots with a bunch of bands you would know. Two albums of catchy AM pop were met with indifference, and that was that. "Trampoline" has always been considered their signature tune. If you don't like this one, best to move on, but it's fly.


Are you getting jiggy with it?

I'm bugging out with all of this '90s lingo. Let's wrap it up. The Tearaways were a Cali band and the only one on this page that stuck around beyond the '90s. I don't know much about their career, but the band's first album was a slow grower that eventually got quite a buzz going in power-pop circles, especially when considering it was released on the band's own Fried Records. The Tearaways jumped around to a couple of indie labels during the decade, but all of these years later, it's that debut, 'See the Sound,' for which they are remembered. It was produced by veteran L.A. producer Earle Mankey, best known (by me, anyway) for working with 20/20, the Three O'Clock, the Pop and other So-Cal-based bands. I always liked the chorus to this slow side of power pop. "Jessica something... what was her name? Something about her remains." Whatever.

Jessica Something

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Pursuit of '80s Power Pop

In 1986, the Pursuit of Happiness had a minor hit in its home country of Canada with "I'm an Adult Now.". A couple of years later, the song was re-recorded and appeared on their debut album, the Todd Rundgren-produced 'Love Junk.' "I'm an Adult Now" beacame part of the regular rotation on MTV's '120 Minutes,' and it peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. Alternative Airplay chart. I was never quite sold on the song. It felt like a novelty or an anthem wannabe, and the tune has aged badly. On the other hand, another single from the album, "She's So Young," was a beauty with a timeless melody.

She's So Young
Speaking of Rundgren, his name has popped up on a couple of my favorite blogs in the last week, here and here. Rundgren's Utopia was the first band I ever saw live. Talk about the time of my life! It was the last day of middle school. Class got out early, and I swam all afternoon with my friends without a care in the world. We listened to a tape of 'Oblivion' on a boom box and talked about girls and music. This was back among the corn fields of Illinois, and we didin't get the likes of Rundgren (or anyone else, really) in our rural part of the state. Even today, I remember the show so vividly. Rundgren wore a beret and shades, and he did the pogo while playing a tiny Casio keyboard held in one of his hands. I wore the latest craze, parachute pants. Shudder.

At the time, I had two Utopia cassettes, 'Oblivion' and 'Adventures in Utopia.' Here's one from the latter, released in 1980. In 2001, a few live performances from the band were released as full albums, including 'Oblivion Tour,' the one I saw in 1983. I'll include a taster from that one too.

Set Me Free
Crybaby (Live)