Thursday, July 30, 2020

More From the Hype Machine 2004-2006

Moving on from the Crayon Fields and the explanation of this very short series, here is a quick look at some of the other bands from that era that seemed to ride a tidal wave of hype. Was it deserved? How do they stand up 15 years later?

The Go! Team were a breath of fresh air when 'Thunder, Lightning, Strike' hit the shelves, and songwriter Ian Parton was a genius with the use of samples. This album was a real party, and the use of different styles meant everyone was invited. Garnered them a Mercury Prize nomination to boot. Alas, for me, the Go! Team was a very brief passing fancy. Listening to them now, 15 years have been harsh on this album, and the sound seems terribly dated. If you want to hear what 2005 sounded like, start here.

The Pipettes were label mates with the Go! Team on Memphis Industries, and the retro band even opened for them for a spell. In Spector-like fashion, a mysterious puppet master named Monster Bobby seemed to pull all of the strings, and the trio of ladies were backed by a talented band dubbed the Cassettes. The gals wore matching polka-dot dresses and had choreographed moves like '60s girl groups. The themes of their songs were rougher than the Shangri-Las, and that's saying something. They were a big hit at SXSW, and the self-titled debut album got a complete makeover for the American audience. As expected, take two of 'We Are the Pipettes' was nowhere near as good as the version on Memphis Industries. I still dig this album, and I continue to follow Gwenno's solo career to this day. If you don't already, you should too.

During this era, no band lit up the Internet quite like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Pitchfork fawned over their self-released, self-titled debut, and that publication had the clout back then, didn't it? Everyone else followed. I remember the reviewer said they were like Arcade Fire but fun (another band from this era that was part of the hype machine!). David Byrne was a fan, and he should have been because front man Alec Ounsworth sounded a lot like him. CYHSY were a great story because it all felt so organic. Of course, they signed to Wichita and lost some of that luster. I never bought anything else by them, but I have a pal or two that have told me they were worth following for a while. I was shocked to see today that there have been albums through 2017, along with plenty of solo material and side projects along the way. Outside of the horrible opening song, I think this album has held up.

Much like CYHSY, Tapes 'n Tapes were a small indie that made big noise on the blogs and got a rave review from Pitchfork with their debut album. 'The Loon' got picked up by XL Recordings and more buzz followed. I listened to the album this week, and the only song I instantly remembered was "Insistor." That one still sounds great, but the rest of the album didn't do much for me. This is the only album I have by Tapes 'n Tapes. In fact, I don't believe I have ever heard anything else, but there were two more albums. The second album must not have done much or they had a falling out with XL because the band ended up back on Ibid, the label they started to release 'The Loon.' For me this one doesn't feel like it has lived up to the hype, and I'm not sure it should have been hyped in the first place.

I discovered gUiLLeMoTs in the spring of 2006 with a double 10" called "From the Cliffs," which was a mishmash of a previously released EP and single along with a new song. What really seemed to catch fire from that collection was the track "Trains to Brazil," and this is one of my favorite songs from the entire decade. Fyfe Dangerfield and Co. seemed to throw everything at this tune, and it all worked, especially the brass. It's the song that would not die. Even into the fall it was single of the week on iTunes. Not bad considering it was first released back in 2005. In the summer of 2006, gUiLLeMoTs somehow topped "From the Cliffs" with the full length 'Through the Windowpane.' By now the hype machine was running full steam, and the end result was a Mercury Prize nomination. What a year! Considering how much I loved "From the Cliffs" and the debut album, it is inconceivable that I didn't continue with this band. I enjoyed listening to these two inventive records so much this week that I am looking to pick up more.

In the end, of these five bands, those that have lived up to the hype take this round 3-2. Not bad. Do you agree? I may try one more round of these from 2004-2006 at the end of the week.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Color Me Impressed

Admit it. We have all fallen for hype at one time or another. In our youth, it would happen when a bunch of music magazines would get behind a band before we ever heard a note. The phenomenon seemed to worsen with the advent of the Internet, but at least we could sample the work with the push of a button (which took the mystery and fun right out of it, but that's a post for another day). That also meant there were no excuses when we shelled out the bucks for something that didn't quite stand the test of time.

At no other period in my life was I more influenced by the hype machine then the first decade of the 21st century, particularly around 2004-2006. The reasons for this are many, but I can boil it down to: A) working for an Internet company that kept me online all day, B) keeping my ear to the ground for new music because it was a tiny part of my job and C) working with a few others that were into music as much as I was and were kind of snobby and competitive about it.

I thought it might be interesting to go back approximately 15 years and reassess a handful of those hyped bands that made an impression at the time. How did they age? Do I still listen to them? Are these records collecting dust? Do I even still have them? If you're still a little lost, I'll go back a few more years to shed some light. At the turn of the century, the hype machine had a field day with bands like the Hives, the Shins and the Strokes. Did they deserve all of that attention? Have you enjoyed any of their records lately? That's what I aim to find out with a few hyped bands from 2004-2006.

The Crayon Fields certainly got a heap of attention in 2006. The Melbourne quartet was led by Geoff O'Connor, and he was positioned as a young whizkid in the mold of a Brian Wilson or Roddy Frame. Press releases told of O'Connor's record collection only containing music from the '60s, and the band was often compared to the Zombies, the Byrds (as most 12-string guitar bands are) and even the Association. The production on debut album 'Animal Bells' was somewhat lo-fi, but the songs seemed dreamy and complex anyway. I'm a real sucker for pop songs with sleigh bells, glockenspiel and other odd pieces of percussion, and this album fit the bill. The vocals were layered, intricate and beautiful. In short, the critics and bloggers raved, and I went right along with them.

Living So Well

Three years later, followup 'All the Pleasures of the World' was released to even more acclaim. Now it felt like the cat was really out of the bag, and on some level that always bothers us early fans, doesn't it? The '60s vibe was still there. The album did, however, sound less innocent and more polished than the debut, but I fell for its charms anyway. Anyway, you shouldn't really fault a band for the crime of getting better at their craft and for being rewarded with a bigger budget... but I have been known to do that from time to time.

Mirror Ball

That's where I got off. Six years would pass before there would be another album from the Crayon Fields. During the hiatus, O'Connor worked on solo material and other side projects. He also must have expanded his record collection because third album 'No One Deserves You' was heavily influenced by '80s synthpop. That would usually be right up my alley, but the album left me cold. Six years is an eternity in pop music, and the kind words from critics had evaporated. In fact, I don't recall reading much about this album at all when it came out.

Did the Crayon Fields live up to the hype? Absolutely. Those first two albums were fantastic, and having just listened to both of them tonight I think they have held up well. 'Animal Bells' has been reissued in recent years. 'All the Pleasures of the World' was just given the deluxe treatment back in February and includes eight bonus tracks of B-sides, covers and really interesting moog versions of the singles. Back next time with another hyped album from the same period.

Friday, July 17, 2020

The MIDDYs: Best Song and Album

As with all awards shows, we have gone long. Stay tuned for your late local news except on the west coast. This lot above was known as the New Vaudeville Band. Inexplicably, they won a GRAMMY for best contemporary recording for the 1966 song "Winchester Cathedral." If, like me, you think 1966 is just about as good a year as there ever was for pop music, this win should be shocking. Listen, I have no problem with the song, but a couple of other nominees in this category were "Eleanor Rigby" and the pocket symphony known as "Good Vibrations." I sure hope I don't look back on this year's MIDDY for best song of the first half of 2020 with the same disdain. I don't think I will because it's a real keeper.

Best Song (So far..)

The nominees are:

Even as We Speak - "Forgiving"
The Muldoons - "In Love Again"
Gary Olson - "Giovanna Please"
Close Lobsters - "All Compasses Go Wild"
The Bell Streets - "Brooklyn"
Jetstream Pony - "It's Fine"
The Beths - "I'm Not Getting Excited"
Jeanines - "Been in the Dark"
Seablite - "High-Rise Mannequins"
Green Gartside - "Wishing Well"
The Claim - "Spring Turns Into Winter"
Elvis Costello - "No Flag"
Nah... - "Perfect Game"
The Proper Ornaments - "Purple Heart"
Graeme Elston - "Miracles"
Nick Lowe - "Lay It On Me Baby"

And the winner is... "In Love Again" from the Muldoons. From the ashes of the Church Grims, one of my favorite Scottish jangle bands, arose the Muldoons. The brand-new album, 'Made for Each Other,' came out on July 10th and will not be eligible for a MIDDY, but this song was released to the public a few weeks before the deadline. Expect the LP to be way up on my year-end list come December.

Best Album (So far..)

The nominees are:

Even as We Speak - 'Adelphi'
As much as I loved comeback EP "The Black Forest" in 2017, it still didn't prepare me for this leap.

Gary Olson - 'Gary Olson'
A gorgeous piece of baroque pop from Ladybug Transistor's trumpet player.

Close Lobsters - 'Post Neo Anti: Arte Povera in the Forest of Symbols'
Will the fact that the entire B-side was previously released keep one of my favorite bands from grabbing a MIDDY?

The Bell Streets - 'Monument'
From the Sugargliders to the Steinbecks to this collaboration with Nick Batterham, Josh Meadows never disappoints.

Jetstream Pony - 'Jetstream Pony'
The odds-makers like them because they took the top spot on my Festive 50 lists in 2018 and 2019.

And the winner is... 'Adelphi' from Even As We Speak. Any of these could have taken the MIDDY, but 'Adelphi' gets the nod by a whisker because it's not often a nearly 35-year-old band can make music that not only appeases "mature" fans like myself but sounds so contemporary they could (and should) win a new generation of indie-pop followers as well. I'm indebted to all five artists in the category for helping me through the toughest half a year in my life.

What are the albums that had you all ears in the first half of 2020?

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


We're back with more mid-year accolades. A Taste of Honey took home a GRAMMY for best new artist in 1979, beating out the likes of the Cars and Elvis Costello. In other words, winning a newcomer award is far from an assurance of future success. My apologies if the hex is put on the following:

Best Newcomer (So far...)

If you have been paying close attention, Strawberry Generation did have a few self-released EPs prior to 2020, but the Providence band has really blossomed this year with a couple of releases on the always dependable Sunday Records. This is sunny indie pop I would describe as the edgy side of twee. Often when a boy and a girl share lead vocal duties, my allegiance tends to eventually favor the female, but I have enjoyed both Luk and Val at the microphone. Comparisons have been made to Alvvays and Say Sue Me, but the former has more synths and the latter is harder. I'll go with later Pains of Being Pure at Heart when Kip got all poppy. From 2020, enjoy the EP "Recollections" and the debut LP 'Afloat.' This is one of those perfect summer albums.

Best Comeback (So far...)

The nominees are vast and varied in this category. The new album from A Girl Called Eddy came as a welcome surprise, lo these many years. We were given quite a treat a few weeks ago when Green Gartside came out of nowhere with a 7" of two songs by Anne Briggs. Then there was Subway legends the Flatmates releasing their first long player since... ever. The Psychedelic Furs and Pretenders (four years away long enough?) probably would have made this list as well if the pandemic hadn't delayed their releases. The songs we have been privy to so far have been excellent, and both will be out this month.

The winner, however, is X with 'Alphabetland.' Back in April when we were all isolated and feeling low (maybe not a while lot has changed, actually), the band decided to give the album to us early in digital form. I, for one, needed that, and it did lift my spirits. This is their first studio release in 27 years and the first with the original line-up in 35 years. This one really will take you back to their glory days on Slash. You can pick up it up in physical form next month.

One more day of MIDDYs coming up when the best song and album of the first half of 2020 will be revealed. Oh, the drama!

Monday, July 13, 2020


We are well past the halfway point of 2020 (thank God!). Since I have spent precious little time on these pages writing about what I have been listening to so far this year, the ballot is in (mine!) and the vote has been counted (mine again!), and it's time to unveil this year's MIDDY Awards. We'll skip the opening monologue of bad Trump, pandemic and protest jokes, as well as the long song and dance number about the nominees, and get to the first category.

Best Label (So far...)

The odds-makers must have had a peek in my music room because they posted Shelflife Records against the field. Save your money. This one was a cakewalk. New full-length albums from Close Lobsters, Jetstream Pony and Even as We Speak are solidly in my top five for the year. A quick look at what they have up their sleeves later this summer and into the fall means they may very well get more kudos come December.

Best Reissue Label (So far...)

This is a packed category. I have been enjoying quite a spread from Cherry Red, including boxes from the Monochrome Set, Primitives, Shoes and Revillos, to name but a few. Pete Paphides' Needle Mythology label is quickly becoming one of my favorites. The early '90s solo outings from Robert Forster are stunners. Sunday Records has dipped into their back catalog to give us another shot at underrated band They Go Boom!! They are upping the ante with a comp on the Proctors later this summer that has me giddy. Firestation once again fans the flames of desire with releases by the Orchids, the Church Grims, Friday Club, Graham Fellows and more. I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention how much I have enjoyed the two-disc blowout of 'Nobody's Perfect' by the Distractions (via Occultation Recordings) and the vinyl debut of 'Hotrod Hotel' by East Village (from Slumberland).

I could go on, but what's the point? It's no surprise this MIDDY goes to... Optic Nerve Recordings. The second series of classic 7" singles turned out beautifully, and I have also picked up the comp of Hangman's Beautiful Daughters. I'm anxiously awaiting the releases of the Wee Cherubs and never before heard music from BOB. That doesn't even include the reissues of McCarthy and Razorcuts that I somehow took a pass on because I couldn't bring myself to buy them yet again.

Oh boy. Here comes one of those dance numbers. Back next time with more MIDDYs.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Sportique Week (5)

Three albums and five singles from the mind of Mr. Gregory Webster. Now that's a week worth living, but all good things must come to an end all that. I have a few more post-Razorcuts releases on the shelves, but we'll save those for another time.

Today's 7" takes us to a different time and genre than the Forever People or Sportique. Webster recorded the nearly solo "Promised Land" single in 2009, and some have called it plainsong indie. If I had to put a label on it, I would say folk with a dash of twang. This simple arrangement wasn't exactly uncharted territory for Webster. You may recall just after Razorcuts he joined forces with Elizabeth Price, formerly of Talulah Gosh, to form the Carousel. The band was, for the most part, vocals and guitar. No bass. No drums. The Carousel wasn't the least bit twangy, however. You won't hear any bass or drums on today's selections either. It's Webster singing and plucking his 12-string guitar... with a little help from the Birthday Girl on harmonium and Pam Berry of Black Tambourine harmonizing. That's it. The A-side was written by Webster. The B-side was penned by some bloke named Hank Williams.

We are taking Webster's song to heart. The family is getting out of Dodge to bunker down in a remote cabin in the forest during the July 4th holiday, but I'll be back with more music come the middle of next week. Stay safe, everyone.

"Promised Land"
"Won't You Sometimes Think of Me?"

You can still buy this single. Here are some links:
"Promised Land" 7" at WIAWYA in the UK
"Promised Land" 7" at Slumberland in America

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Sportique Week (4)

The header is a misnomer today and tomorrow because we are moving from Sportique to a couple of choice nuggets from Gregory Webster post Razorcuts but not with the all-star band we have listened to the past three days. If your fandom for Razorcuts is what has brought you to these pages, today's single will warm the cockles of your heart.

In 1992, a good three years after the last album from Razorcuts, Webster released a single with his old partner in crime Tim Vass. This wasn't for Creation, but it was another reunion of sorts. Razorcuts had released a split flexi with Talulah Gosh on Sha La La way back in 1987. The band had also appeared in the second issue of the fanzine Are You Scared to Get Happy in 1986. The lad behind both of these legendary relics, of course, was Matt Haynes, and he would go on to co-found Sarah Records. So it was sort of like a homecoming when Webster and Vass released Sarah 54 as the Forever People in a one-time spinoff of Razorcuts. The 7" was a benefit recording for Friends of the Earth. Like many indie labels, Sarah was known for their creative inserts, but this one was a pamphlet describing the environmental organization and how to join and give. Both songs are a good listen, and the flip side, in particular, is a nice bit of jangle.

I didn't realize until this very evening that these songs are included on the bonus LP of Optic Nerve's 'The World Keeps Turning' reissue. You can pick that up here. I'm quite sure it will sound better than this scratchy 28-year-old piece of vinyl.


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Sportique Week (3)

Today brings us to the last of the three albums from Sportique. The band is full of piss and vinegar on 'Communiqué No. 9' but are having a laugh or two along the way as well. Oh, and they are in a hurry to tell you about it. The eight songs clock in at about 17 minutes, and the message will come through loud and clear (often really loud). The band hates all art-world poseurs, and there are a few of them on the scene, eh? It's especially true in pop music, and principal songwriter Gregory Webster seems to have had his fill with all of the sellouts. Some may call it sour grapes, but I know none of you feel that way because you're here, and that means, like me, he is one of your indie-pop heroes.

The sound of the 2003 album is not too far off from 'Modern Museums.' You'll find more '70s post punk with a little '60s garage thrown in for good measure. There is even a forward-thinking experimental moment or two to be had. On "Arthouse Cinemas," I inexplicably find myself being reminded of the monochromatic early work of Stereolab. Sportique worked on this album with Liam Watson at his Toerag Studio in London. It was an extraordinary year for Watson. He would produce 'Elephant' for the White Stripes the same year and grab a Grammy for his efforts. Watson was a good fit for Sportique as he liked to work with old analog equipment. This was especially beneficial to Amelia Fletcher. Her efforts on the organ are the real star of 'Communiqué No. 9.' After wrestling with whether to play the humorous Other Peoples' Girlfriends" or "Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell Records," I have decided to go with the aforementioned song that reminds me of Stereolab and Komeda.

I'm also throwing in the A-side from the band's last 7". It was released in 2000, a full three years before Sportique called it a day, and I believe this marks the first appearance of Fletcher in the band. This is a poppy little number complete with handclaps.

"Arthouse Cinemas" (from 'Communiqué No. 9')
"Don't Believe a Word I Say" (A-side of single)

You can still buy these two releases. Here are some links:
"Don't Believe a Word I Say" 7" at Jigsaw Records in America
'Communiqué No. 9' 10"/CD at Jigsaw Records in America
'Communiqué No. 9' 10"/CD at WIAWYA in the UK