I've been listening to the long-awaited new Acid House Kings album, Music Sounds Better With You a lot recently, and it's everything fans of these twee Swedish (Tweedish?) stalwarts could have hoped for. Quintessentially Acid House Kings, basically!
My favourite track on the album would probably be I Just Called to Say Jag älskar dig - a gorgeous little love song tucked away near the end. But when I looked at the album's listening stats on Last FM a little while ago, something struck me as odd about this particular song's figures.
While the other nine tracks on Music Sounds Better With You had all garnered at least 3,000 plays apiece (one track gaining in excess of 8,000 listens), I Just Called to Say Jag älskar dig has managed a total of just 191 plays - almost 3,000 below any of the others. This can lead me to only two possible conclusions:
1) The fact that part of the title is in Swedish is putting people off giving it a chance. Not that this should matter, but it seems to. The ironic thing is, Jag älskar dig (I love you) are the only three Swedish words in the whole of the song.
2) People are worried I Just Called to Say Jag älskar dig might be a cover of that horrible old Stevie Wonder song. An understandable concern, but don't worry, it's not.
Anyway, don't just take my word for how good it is - have a listen for yerself!
Xfm are running a chart over the Bank Holiday weekend called The Indie 500, in which their listeners have voted for their favourite alternative songs of all time. That's the theory anyway. I caught a bit of it earlier on, and the kind of acts who've made the list are almost laughably not indie, even by modern-day definitions of the word: U2, Guns 'n' Roses, Blink 182, The Knack, Electric Six, Coldplay, Aerosmith, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Damien Rice (for god's sake), to name but several. Apparently Oasis have about 14 songs in the 500 too, just when you thought it couldn't get any stodgier.
In fairness, though, there are some bona fide independent acts in the chart as well, such as The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, Tiffany and Bernard Cribbins. (Two of those may not be strictly true. The Smiths & Echo & The Bunnymen's catalogues are probably owned by Warner Music or Sony nowadays).
Anyway, yes, so bearing in mind that Xfm in 2011 is about as alternative as a royal wedding street party, I thought I'd redress the balance here a fraction by serving up a few actual, proper indie songs that would all be flying high in their "Indie 500" if it had even begun to deliver what it promised. Up yours, Geldof!
More European synth-pop loveliness today, courtesy of Finland's Burning Hearts. I first wrote about these guys here a couple of years ago when they released their rather ace debut album Aboa Sleeping. Anyway, to quickly recap, they're a duo comprising Cats on Fire drummer and multi-instrumentalist Henry Ojala and Le Futur Pompiste singer Jessika Rapo. And they make rather agreeable music, like this!
So, did you see the 1976 edition of Top of the Pops on BBC4 this week? It was the usual mix of the good (The Andrea True Connection), the bad (The Wurzels) and the ugly (DLT was presenting). But the thing that really stood out for me - sent shivers down my spine in fact - was this performance of Midnight Train To Georgia by Gladys Knight and the Pips, sung - and danced! - live. If I could sum it up in one three words, thatose words would be: absolutely chuffing sublime.
The last time I heard The Catcher in the Rye it was as a rough demo by Labrador's Irene. Now, a year later, it's resurfaced as a fully-fledged pop gem - and it's no longer by Irene; or at least not all of them. The band's singer-songwriter Tobias Isaksson has a new solo project, a new record label in Hybris and Catcher in the Rye is no longer an Irene song. Behold Azure Blue and the magnificent The Catcher in the Rye!
The Catcher in the Rye is the debut single from the album Rule of Thirds, which will be released in September.
Mildly Interesting Pop Fact: Tobias cites Grant McLennan as one of his major influences. Just thought I'd mention that. Nothing to see here, move along.
Tonight I watched Leningrad Cowboys Go America, a 1989 road movie about a Finnish folk band trying their luck stateside. It's a bit bonkers, frankly - but in a good way. The band all sport huge horizontal outwards-facing quiffs and walk about wearing comically oversized winkle-pickers (so we now know from where Vic Reeves's Davy Stott took his footwear inspiration).
Anyway, there's not much of a plot to speak of: the band are rejected by a local impresario so fly overseas to New York, where they're once again dismissed out of hand by a music biz big-wig, who nonetheless recommends that they drive south to Mexico where his cousin needs a band to play at his forthcoming wedding. So off they go. Along the way they stop in some of the less salubrious areas of the southern United States and play gigs to largely-bemused and/or unimpressed locals to pay their way. Oh, and they learn to play rock 'n' roll. Did I mention that they've also brought their recently-deceased bass player along for the ride? Because, naturally, they have.
But the plot's not really important; it's the quirky, surreal nature of the film and its taciturn yet likeable protaganists, combined with the actually rollicking good music (the Leningrad Cowboys are an actual, long-established band outside of the film) that makes Leningrad Cowboys Go America a winner. I watched it on DVD but the whole thing's available in six parts on YouTube, so why not jump straight in. (The first eight or nine minutes are in Finnish but the dialogue's all English after that, as the band's imperious manager insists that if they're going to be big stars in America, they'd better speak - or learn - the lingo!)
Mildly Interesting Film Fact: Cult director Jim Jarmusch makes a cameo appearance in this movie as a used car salesman, although this wasn't one of his own films - it was directed by Aki Kaurismaki.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Go-Betweens co-founder Grant McLennan at the age of 48. On May 6th 2006, preparing for a party at his home in Brisbane, Grant complained of feeling unwell and went upstairs for a rest; he died in his room shortly afterwards from a heart attack.
Grant was one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation and one of my all-time musical heroes, so I think it only right that I use this blog to commemorate him and remind people of what an exceptional talent we lost on that shitty day five years ago, with some of his greatest should-have-been hits.
First up, the video to Streets of Your Town from 1988's (at the time) valedictory Go-Betweens album 16 Lovers' Lane. This was the song that first introduced me to the band (I was typically late to the party) and to this day it remains one of my desert island discs; a perfect, wistful three-minute pop song. If the streets of your town matched the beauty of this song, you'd never leave.
From the same album, Grant also takes the lead on the rumbustious Was There Anything I Could Do? This and Streets sold a combined total of about twelve copies in the UK, despite being two of the singles of the decade. (I wonder about the music-buying public sometimes, I really do.) Wonderful song and video. How much fun are they having in this?!
Although Streets is my absolute favourite, many people's top Go-Betweens song would be 1983's Cattle & Cane, which, it has to be said, is absolutely fantastic also. As a child, Grant's family spent some time living on a cattle station in north Queensland so the lyrics to this song are, you won't be surprised to learn, largely autobiographical.
Of course, the Go-Betweens were as much about Robert Forster as they were Grant. In fact it was Forster who first encouraged McLennan to learn bass guitar and join him in forming the band. On their early songs, Robert was taking lead songwriting and vocal duties, but Grant gradually developed his own style and the two of them soon became equals. And, as time went on, more & more of the band's singles were being composed and sung mainly by Grant - his McCartney-esque ear for a pop hook obviously being deemed as the way forward to chart success (the best-laid plans & all). But the standard of Robert's songwriting never dipped either, as illustrated perfectly by 1986's Spring Rain.
And another Forster favourite - Head Full of Steam. Excellent song but the video is most memorable for Grant in drag as a blonde bombshell!
The above songs are all from 1990's Video Singles which I remember being a bugger to get hold of at the time - I think I eventually tracked down a copy in the classified pages of Record Collector - but which can now be bought relatively inexpensively from Amazon. Isn't the future amazing?
One song that, oddly, didn't appear on Video Singles was '84's Bachelor Kisses, so I'd never actually seen the promo before today. The song's long been a favourite, though, and what a treat it is to see a young Grant sans hat, sans long blonde bombshell wig and with what appears to be a full head of hair! (Also, Robert Vickers, who took over bass duties when Grant graduated to lead guitar, looks about 12 in this clip.)
After the split at the end of the eighties, both principles went solo & both released some cracking albums in their own right. My favourite of Grant's is his debut, 1991's Watershed. It contains songs like Easy Come Easy Go which showcase a performer at the peak of his powers. Writing one song this good would be way beyond most of us; Grant seemed to be able to conjure them up at will.
If you've never seriously investigated the work of the Go-Betweens or the solo output of Forster & McLennan can I suggest that now might be the time to start? If you're reading this blog and you generally like the sort of stuff we post, then I can pretty much guarantee you won't be sorry. Go on - you know it makes sense!
Anyway, one more for the road. When the band eventually reformed at the start of the new millenium it was, typically, to widespread critical, if not commercial, acclaim. Here they are performing Going Blind on Later... with Jools Holland in 2000.
Grant McLennan 1958-2006. Gone, but not forgotten.
If you're in the UK and as yet undecided on which way to vote in Friday's Alternative Vote referendum, why not let the ever-entertaining MJ Hibbett guide you through the ins and outs of the process with the rather nifty home-made vid I'm Saying Yes. (There may be a slight clue as to which way he'll be voting in that title.) Anyway, we're giving this one a big vote of confidence, and so should you.
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