Saturday, 29 September 2007

"Brace yourself"

I forget how I came across The Chives and Ballpark. I have a feeling I may have followed a link in a guestbook (that was in the days when links in guestbooks didn't take you to websites promising penis enlargements, cheap viagra and myriad gambling opportunities) and I'm very glad that I did. After hearing snippets of jangly, guitar-based indie (on RealPlayer - remember when everyone used that?) I parted with ten of your earth pounds and received four CDs of a quality far better than I expect from my impulse purchases. Sadly - as always seems to be the case when I discover a band I really like - The Chives who, as far as I can remember, became Ballpark when guitarist Matthew Corbett (no, not that one) left and was replaced by Matt Poole, had not long gone their separate ways.

Chris SpringAs I can't tell you much about them, I'll tell you what I can and then put some mp3s up. The singer, songwriter and driving force behind The Chives and Ballpark was Chris Spring from Chelmsford. (He has now gone solo and I'll direct you to his myspace page as his website is currently undergoing a revamp. For me, his solo stuff hasn't yet hit the spot like The Chives and Ballpark did.) Nobby Haywood played bass - more bands need members called Nobby - Matthew Corbett and Matt Poole were lead guitarists in The Chives and Ballpark respectively and Rob Bailey handled the drums. The Chives released two albums (The Chives and :2three) plus one CD of alternative versions of album tracks and some which didn't make it onto albums and Ballpark released just one album, Cigarettes Save The World. That's it. Now you know what I know. Oh, and Chris Spring is a really nice, friendly chap. Now you know what I know! Here are the mp3s (all left clicks available for 7 days):

The Chives - Nothing Happened mp3

The Chives - First mp3

The Chives - Sure Surrender mp3

Ballpark - Anything Hour - mp3

Friday, 28 September 2007

"Don't see me only as I am but see me how I long to be"

The Innocence Mission
Pennsylvania's The Innocence Mission have been going since the early 80s but you wouldn't know it from listening to them. They sound incredibly fresh even though singer and pianist Karen Peris's voice always sounds strangely familiar. The band is now a trio of Peris, her guitarist husband Don and bassist Mike Bitts, although before 1999 the line-up also included Steve Brown on drums.

To date they have released 10 albums (the most recent being We Walked In Song, released in March 2007), but to my mind their best is 2003's Befriended, which is gorgeous from start to finish. It begins with Tomorrow On The Runway (you can stream or download it from The Innocence Mission's myspace page) which really sets the tone for the whole album. Wistful, full of need and feeling like there's a chill in the air. This album feels perfect for this time of year and there isn't a song on it which isn't perfectly placed.

The stand out track for me on Befriended is One For Sorrow, Two For Joy. It was the first song of theirs I ever heard and I was mesmerised for the whole four minutes and five seconds. I may even have had a solitary tear rolling down my cheek by the time it had finished playing, in an aesthetically pleasing manner indicating my emotional depth. (Or I may have been a snivelling, snotty wreck. One or the other...)

The Innocence Mission - One For Sorrow, Two For Joy mp3 (available for 7 days)

The final song on the album, Look For Me As You Go By, is my perfect way to end any album. A hopeful, slow-builder that leads beautifully on to the first track of the album so you can start all over again without spotting the join!

The Innocence Mission - Look For Me As You Go By mp3 (available for 7 days)

You can buy Befriended from iTunes, and I highly recommend you do!

To give you some idea of what their newer material is like, here's a live performance of Brotherhood Of Man from the most recent album, We Walked In Song. (To avoid disappointment, I ought to say that it isn't an ode to the British group who represented the UK in the Eurovison Song Contest with Save Your Kisses For Me.)

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The Go-Between

Two albums that came out in 1991, both by Antipodean artists, remain to this day pretty much my favourite summer albums. The first is Crowded House's multi-squillion-selling, radio-friendly masterpiece Woodface; the second is Watershed by the (at the time) ex-Go-Between Grant McLennan - or "G.W. McLennan" as he somewhat earnestly christened himself on his early solo records.

It's often been said that Grant was the Paul McCartney to Robert Forster's John Lennon in the Go-Betweens' songwriting partnership, and I think that point is perfectly illustrated - at least regarding (Mc)Lennan & McCartney - in today's featured songs: Haven't I Been A Fool and Easy Come, Easy Go - both upbeat, catchy numbers (daddio) that make you feel glad to be alive. (Of course, lines such as "Tell the funeral man I don't like powder on my face" sound achingly poignant in 2007, knowing what we know now, but still...) The highest compliment I can pay Watershed is that it's as good as anything the Go-Betweens ever did - and I bloody love The Go-Betweens.

Actually, it's probably a bit late in the day (or year, at least) to be banging on about summery pop music, but never mind. Just pretend it's the start of June or something, sit back and revel in these sunny-day songs from a genuinely great, much-missed singer-songwriter.

G.W. McLennan - Haven't I Been A Fool mp3

G.W. McLennan - Easy Come Easy Go mp3

Buy Grant McLennan's Watershed for £5.97 (a snip!) at Amazon

Buy Go-Betweens stuff at their official website

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Three of a kind #10

Henry's Dress, The Busy Band, The Dinivyls
Have you ever listened to a song by a band you've not heard before and thought, "Wow! This is the best song I've heard in ages! I must hear the band's entire back catalogue right this instant!" And then when you finally manage to track down the band's tiny record label and listen to other songs it's horribly disappointing and you hate everything else they've ever recorded? If not, you're incredibly fortunate. If, like me, you've experienced this frustrating and annoying phenomenon then you'll probably appreciate the time I'm about to save you with this entry.
The following bands have one brilliant song and, beyond that, aren't worth bothering with (in my humble opinion). So enjoy these songs and don't investigate too much further! (Or do if you want to. I'd be very interested to hear if you share my opinion or not...)

Firstly we have San Francisco noisemakers Henry's Dress - disbanded since 1996. The band originally formed in Albuquerque but followed singer/drummer/guitarist Amy Linton (later of the much, much better purveyors of quality noise The Aislers Set) to San Fran. Their tuneful fuzz in Hey Allison sounds like the band plugged in a load of electric guitars, threw them in a feedback-producing heap and recorded the results. I'm not normally one for the louder side of things (hence my complete disinterest in the rest of their output), but this is a song I love to turn up loud and dance to until I'm breathless. When no-one's watching, of course.

Henry's Dress - Hey Allison mp3 (right click and save as)

Next we have the quieter, but similarly underwhelming The Busy Band, made up of Amanda Aldervall from Free Loan Investments (blogged about here) and Samuel Petersson from The State of Samuel. They've been together since 2002 but they've been rather quiet for a while, so I'm not sure how together they are any more. The pedigree they both bring was probably responsible for getting my hopes up too high.
The song below is a handclapping tweepop delight - lovely rather than mindblowing, it has to be said. Unfortunately their other songs sound like a hundred other mediocre but not unpleasant bands. It's a shame because I feel like they're capable of so much more.

The Busy Band - The Sign Says Walk mp3 (right click and save as)

And finally, the band who never again managed to reach the heights of their brilliant ode to self-love. Christina Amphlett and Mark McEntee are The Divinyls and their greatest song reached number 10 in the UK charts in 1991. A ten-year-old Spike loved but didn't understand it. Without this track, The Divinyls would just be a dull Australian MOR pop rock band, destined to appear unobtrusively in the background of Aussie tv programmes.

The Divinyls - I Touch Myself mp3 (left click available for 7 days)

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Now everyone knows my radio sounds different in the dark

Not to be confused with Jessica Griffin's would-be-goods, The Would Be's were an Irish indiepop band active between 1989 and 1991 (although, according to their profile on Last FM, they reformed in 2000). Band members were Paul, Mattie and Eamonn Finnegan, Pascal Smith, Aidan O'Reilly and lead vocalist Eileen Gogan, who'd taken over when original singer Julie McDonnell left the band shortly after their debut single reached #12 in John Peel's Festive Fifty - which seems to be becoming a bit of a recurring theme for this week's blog entrants!). Now, while their grammar might not always have been the best, The Would Be's didn't half write some good tunes.

I only own one solitary Would Be's record - The Wonderful EP - but it does contain a genuinely great pop song in the trombone-tastic My Radio Sounds Different In The Dark. This could and should have been one of the big hits of 1991, but aside from Gary Crowley and the aforementioned Peel, who both championed the band on their respective shows, it received pitifully little radio airplay - in the dark or otherwise. (Oh the irony!) Eileen Gogan is providing vox on this one, by the way.

The Would Be's - My Radio Sounds Different In The Dark mp3 (left click)

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Three of a kind #9

There are some people who can just move from one band to the next, making everything brilliant. In this case we're talking about someone who started off in 1992 with Tiger Trap formed with her schoolfriend Angie Loy, along with Heather Dunn and Jen Bruan. Tiger Trap released a single, an EP and a full length album on K Records. The following song was on the Sour Grass EP.

Tiger Trap - Carrie's Song mp3 (left click, available for 7 days)

In 1994 after Tiger Trap disbanded she moved on to form well regarded twee band The Softies with Jen Sbragia (now of the All Girl Summer Fun Band).

The Softies

Their stripped down songs (almost entirely played on two electric guitars) and sweet harmonies won them many fans and influenced a large number of twee (and beyond) bands which have since formed. They released their debut album It's Love on K Records (if you don't own it yet, I cannot urge you strongly enough to rectify that as soon as humanly possibly). The song below is from that album.

The Softies - Fragile, Don't Crush mp3 (left click, available for 7 days)

The Softies released their last album, Holiday In Rhode Island, in 2000 but the lady in question had released a solo album, Portola, two years earlier. It took her eight years to get around to recording the follow up, Cast Away The Clouds, which is probably the best record of her career. You can buy Cast Away The Clouds and Portola here.

Tonight, Matthew, you have been listening to Rose Melberg.

Rose Melberg

From Cast away The Clouds:
Rose Melberg - Four Walls mp3 (left click, available for 7 days)

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Ludicrously good

I've been listening to popular music combo I, Ludicrous's double best of album 20 Years In Showbusiness a lot over the past few months - and guess what? It's dead good. For anyone not yet acquainted with this band, the easiest way to describe them would be as a sort of southern equivalent of Half Man Half Biscuit. Which is, clearly, a very good thing.

I, Ludicrous were formed in London in 1985 by John Procter and David Rippingale (AKA Will Hung), and soon pulled off the impressive feat of reaching #11 in John Peel's Festive Fifty with their debut flexi release Preposterous Tales. In the intervening two decades, they've released several albums and singles - gathering a loyal cult following along the way - and now, in 2007, they've packaged 34 of the best tracks from these releases together on one shiny, double album - the aforementioned 20 Years In Showbusiness.

20 Years contains some of the funniest lyrical observations around on contemporary* British culture, on subjects ranging from legendary Spitting Image puppet and sometime sports anchor, David Coleman (Quite Extraordinary), to ill-starred, naff soap operas ( Hats Off To Eldorado); from annoying former Thatcherite Sports Miniatures (sic) (Moynihan Brings Out The Hooligan In Me) to the nightmare scenario of being trapped in an elevator with a beardy, grating TV personality ( Stuck In A Lift With Noel Edmonds). There's even a song about the band's guru - him from The Fall (I've Never Been Hit By Mark E. Smith).

*well, a lot of these songs were written in the 80s and early 90s, but obviously they'd have been contemporary at the time.

Here are a couple of my favourite tracks, anyway. Have a listen and see what you think.

I, Ludicrous - Preposterous Tales mp3 (left click - up for 7 days)

I, Ludicrous - Quite Extraordinary mp3 (ditto)

20 Years In Showbusiness is available from for £10.99, or for a bargain £10.98 from Amazon. (but if you really shop around you might even be able to pick up a copy for £10.97 - who knows??)

Seriously, this album is great value for money and a cracking listen to boot. Highly recommended!

The I, Ludicrous website

Monday, 17 September 2007

Three of a kind #8

Despite the fact that Channel 4 have now repeated it to within an inch of its life, Father Ted remains, I think it's fair to say, one of the funniest things ever. If, say, I were to be locked up in a room for the rest of eternity (an unlikely turn of events, I know, but let's just go with it) with nothing to entertain me other than a boxset of the Craggy Island comedy, the chances are I'd still never tire of it (well, at least not until after the two millionth viewing or so).

Anyway, as you're no doubt aware, today marks a very special anniversary in the life of this great show. That's right, it's now been exactly 12 years, 4 months and 9 days (ish) since the very first episode of Father Ted originally aired. To commemorate this momentous day, today's three of a kind features a trio of songs associated with the show:

Ghost Town by The Specials - as featured in the series 2 episode Think Fast, Father Ted, in which forgetful priest DJ "The Spinmaster" only brings a solitary seven-inch single (ie this one) along to the disco he's compering.

The Specials - Ghost Town mp3 (left click)

Theme From 'Shaft' by Eddy and the Soul Band - as featured in the last ever episode, Going To America , in which Ted plays this upbeat classic (one of Mrs Doyle's boot sale finds) in a bid to cheer up Tommy Tiernan's suicidally depressive priest.

Eddy and the Soul Band - The Theme from 'Shaft' mp3

Songs of Love (the theme from Father Ted) by The Divine Comedy. This one's pretty self-explanatory really!

The Divine Comedy - Songs of Love mp3

Also, as a bonus, here's the video of Ted & Dougal's legendary Eurosong '96 entry, My Lovely Horse (or at least the way Dougal envisages it in his dream!).

Buy Father Ted boxsets (and related music) here

Saturday, 15 September 2007

"You've broken the record, no-one even comes close"

The Hi-Life Companion
The Hi-Life Companion are a little bit vague about themselves. "At the last count there were at least seven people in, or contributing to the band. Members come and go. Some members don't even know they are members!" they say. Actually I think I might be one of those members who doesn't know, y'know. Send those royalties this way, chaps! However, they are certain that the Bristol-based band is loosely formed around brothers Matt and Jon Troy (Jon is also the drummer for Airport Girl). Also some of the band like beer and some of the band like chocolate (we have so much in common...).

Now here's what I know: I have now heard seven songs by The Hi-Life Companion and have liked them all. They're another one of those genderblender bands which mix male and female vocals so beautifully. Their laid-back sound lets the melodies and arrangements seep through you, until you wake up one morning humming their tunes and wondering if anyone has ever put them on record, because they damn well should, before realising that you can't claim the credit for the loveliness that's been echoing around your head.

Earlier this month, they released a three track single on Cloudberry Records, that bastion of good taste. Generously, they've made a track from that single available. Download it below (right click and save as).

The Hi-Life Companion - You're The Greatest mp3

You can listen to the other two tracks from that single plus one other on the Hi-Life Companion myspace page. (I think Night Comes Down is my personal favourite - trumpets and babababa-ing rarely leads to disappointment!) But you want to have them all to own and keep and play whenever you want, don't you? For a measly $5 as well!

Apparently an album, Say Yes!, is in the pipeline and this makes me very happy indeed. I'll be first in the queue to get hold of it. Until then, you can visit The Hi-Life Companion's website to find out the latest news.

Say yes to The Hi-Life Companion - you won't be sorry!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

So is Wincey Willis...

More novelty songs about former TV meteorologists, that's what this blog needs!

A Tribe Of Toffs - John Kettley Is A Weatherman mp3

Ten interesting facts about this song and its protaganists:

1) It was recorded by Sunderland's self-proclaimed top band of the time, A Tribe of Toffs. That's them in the picture below.

2) It was the only single to peak at #21 in the UK singles chart during Christmas 1988 that namechecked Johnny Marr and Bill Giles.

3) Despite officially retiring in 2004, Michael Fish, who (in)famously failed to predict the Great Storm of 1987 during a BBC1 forecast a few hours beforehand ("Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!".), still occasionally does the weather forecasts on BBC South East Today, as holiday cover for the regular forecasters.

4) Big egos are, apparently, rampant among TV weatherpersons. In 1999 the Met Office launched a seven-month investigation following complaints that the then Head of BBC TV Weather Centre, Bill Giles, had bullied and intimidated colleagues.

5) Mark Burano and Eric Lane... Who they?

6) OK, so #5 was more of a question than a fact. But who were they, seriously?

7) Andy Crane does, in fact, have a brain.

8) Umm...

9) Wincey Willis now runs her own TV weatherperson sanctuary in the Mendips.

10) #9 may not be strictly true. (Come to think of it, I have my doubts about #7 as well.)

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

"I sit at home and muse for a while"

The Superfantastics
The Superfantastics are guitarist Matt MacDonald and drummer Stephanie d'Entremont from Halifax, Nova Scotia and their name gives them a lot to live up to. Luckily, they rarely disappoint and their simple, melodic style is pleasingly versatile. When I first heard them, I couldn't quite believe that they were a duo - they sound far more fulsome than you would expect from just two people.

I've heard that they met whilst playing frisbee on the common. Stephanie mentioned that she wanted to learn the drums and thought that it would be easier if she had someone to play along with and Matt agreed to play guitar to assist - thus The Superfantastics were born. I would very much like this story to be true.

The best thing about this band is that they're so much fun to listen to. And what's more, they sound like they're having a damn good time too! Look at that picture and tell me that you wouldn't want to spend time with these people. Go on, I dare you!

Originally titled Theodore Tugboat, What Will You Do Now? after a popular children's cartoon character with his home in Halifax, the shortened-for-legal-reasons What Will You Do Now? is two minutes and eleven seconds of dynamic songwriting and performance. It's lean, punchy and memorable. I couldn't ask for more. (And have a listen to the guitar riff which kicks in about half way through. It bears a striking resemblance to The Comeback by Shout Out Louds, which I linked to in my previous entry. This is most definitely not a criticism!)

The Superfantastics - What Will You Do Now? mp3 (available for 7 days)

Oh How You Used To Know Me Well (Back Then) also doesn't outstay its welcome at a petite five seconds shy of two minutes. In fact I think it probably took me longer to type the title than it did to listen to the song! It's a country-tinged toe-tapper complete with some nifty whistling at the end. Lovely stuff!

The Superfantastics - Oh How You Used To Know Me Well (Back Then) mp3 (available for 7 days)

You can buy the album that came from, Pop-Up Book from The Superfantastics website (go on, it's a bargain!) and there are another couple of songs to download from their myspace page.

To finish off with, here's the super, fantastic video for Tonight Tonite.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Great moments in Swedish pop #9627

Taking their name from (of all things) a flavour of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Pineforest Crunch were formed in the Swedish city of Solna in 1996 by former school friends Åsa Eklund, Olle Söderström, Mats Lundgren and Mattias Olsson, along with ski trip acquaintance(!) Jonas Petterson. Influenced by bands like American Music Club and The Sundays, Pineforest Crunch went on to record three well-received albums and an EP between 1996 and 2002. From the first album, here are the band playing the ineffably marvellous Cup Noodle Song (a #3 smash in the Swedish pop charts in '96), live on Japanese TV:

Isn't that just the greatest thing? Actually, there's also a video of another Pineforest Crunch classic, Shang-ri La, up on You Tube, but the sound quality's terrible on that one and really doesn't do the song justice, so it's probably best to give it a wide berth. I do have the CD single of Shang-ri La somewhere, but couldn't find it for looking tonight, so I'll have to put that up here at a later date, just as soon as I've tracked it down. I have at least managed to locate my copy of the first album, Make Believe, though, so am able to furnish you with an mp3 of the previously-mentioned, permanently-brilliant Cup Noodle Song. Now I can't say fairer than that!

Pineforest Crunch - Cup Noodle Song mp3 (up for 7 days - left click)

Why not check out Pineforest Crunch's official website

Or buy some of their music at CD Baby

Saturday, 8 September 2007

"Hurry up let's go, don't want to miss a thing"

Shout Out Louds
On September 11th in America, Shout Out Louds will release their second album, Our Ill Wills, the follow up to Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. While the title of their debut is clearly the superior of the two, from what I've heard so far the follow up is definitely more than its equal musically. The difficult second album syndrome has obviously not affected the Stockholm band. (Yes, they're Swedes. I can't help it - I'm drawn to them!)

The opening track is an absolute belter. I was less than twenty seconds into it when I realised I would be playing it on repeat non-stop for at least a week. Left click the link below to download Tonight I Have To Leave It.

Shout Out Louds - Tonight I Have To Leave It mp3 (available for 7 days)

Shout Out Louds are Adam Olenius, Ted Malmros, Carl von Arbin, Eric Edman and Bebban Stenborgand and fans of the Wannadies will definitely not want to pass them by. Sadly they're not playing in the UK until 26th November - just one solitary gig at The Borderline in London. But they'll be all over North America during October. Lucky Yanks!
The band has been together since 2001 and released Howl Howl Gaff Gaff in 2003, so it's been four years between albums. About time too! Let's hope they don't leave us hanging for so long next time.

You can pre-order Our Ill Wills from Merge Records or Insound (at Insound use the coupon code: shoutout15 when you're about to complete your purchase and you´ll get a 15% discount).
Did I mention that it was produced by Björn Yttling (of Peter Björn and John fame)? It seems only fair, since Ted co-directed the Grammy award winning video for Young Folks.

There's plenty to look at on the Shout Out Louds website and there are more songs to be heard on their myspace page.
Those of us in the UK can go to good old Rough Trade to buy Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. The track below is from that album.

Shout Out Louds - Hurry Up Let's Go mp3 (available for 7 days)

I'll leave you with a link to the video of 'The Comeback' just because it's an ace song, and it seemed an appropriate note to end on. Welcome back, Shout Out Louds!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Three of a kind #7: Popsicle / Sweet Chariots / Andreas Mattsson

Before I go on I'd better nail my colours to the mast here: Andreas Mattsson, about whom I'm going to write today, is possibly, and quite probably, my favourite singer-songwriter - so apologies in advance if I end up sounding like some kind of gushing fanboy here. (readers: if your own fanboy is gushing, I suggest you seek medical advice immediately.)

Andreas, as seasoned Swedish indiepop watchers will know, started out fronting legendary nineties combo Popsicle, who released five albums (or six, if you include their debut 6-track A West Side Fabrication release, Template, which I do.) between 1992 and 97. These albums are mostly out of print now, but Swedish mail order store Hotstuff (among others) do currently stock the 2005 double best of CD, The Good Side of Popsicle, which I would recommend as essential listening for anyone who fancies hearing one of the true pioneers of the Swedish indie scene at their absolute finest.

From The Good Side of... here's Popsicle's sublime 1994 single Make Up:

Popsicle - Make Up mp3 (left click to download)

Following the band's decision to split up at the end of the nineties, Mattsson teamed up with Atomic Swing mainman Niclas Frisk (who'd produced Popsicle's latter albums) to form the should-have-been-huge-but-somehow-weren't Sweet Chariots. The Chariots, as I think we'll call them, only released one album, the cumbersomely-titled Beat-Based / Song-Centred / Spirit-Led, in 2000, but it contained some songs as good as anything Popsicle ever recorded - which is extremely good indeed. Check out the uplifting and inspirational Cry No More Tears for proof of their sheer, unbridled genius!

Sweet Chariots - Cry No More Tears mp3

In 2003, Mattsson and Frisk teamed up once again to work on the A Camp album with Cardigans singer Nina Persson. Following this project, the lads hooked up with French chanteuse Vanessa Contenay-Quinones and James Iha (ex- Smashing Pumpkins) to form Vanessa And The O's. (more on them another day.)

Despite continuing to play with The O's, Andreas found the time in 2006 to record his first solo album, The Lawlessness of the Ruling Classes, for tip-top Swedish label Hybris. By far the most mellow release of his career to date, this album should appeal to anyone who enjoys grown-up, introspective pop music. (Richard Hawley would be a good comparison.) Have a listen to one of the standout tracks, the haunting Summer of Speed, and see what you think.

Andreas Mattsson - Summer of Speed mp3

Buy The Lawlessness of the Ruling Classes here.

(In other news, I've changed my Blogger display name to something a bit wacky, in lieu of an actual personality.)

Thursday, 6 September 2007

"a heart like a socket I can plug into at will"

St. Vincent
I'm not usually ambivalent about bands or artists, but in St. Vincent's case I'll make an exception.

St. Vincent is the band of multi-instrumentalist Polyphonic Spree member Annie Clark and I really can't think of a good way to describe what her music sounds like. 'Complicated' is probably the best I can do! Some of it I love, some of it is really not my sort of thing but it's certainly never dull. Some songs make my heart beat faster and feel afraid as if I've just watched someone pull a knife on me (Solex's Shoot Shoot sounded pant-wettingly scary to me in the same way), some songs make me want to spin around in an empty field until I fall over and some songs make me want to take her instruments away after four minutes, so she'll stop noodling on them!

St. Vincent's album Marry Me was released in the UK on 3rd September. You can buy it here, but first listen to the title track below, which is excellent and was the most instantly grabbing for me. (Left click)

St. Vincent - Marry Me mp3 (available for 7 days)

I also loved the fabulously named Jesus Saves, I Spend (which you can download below) but I could have happily chosen four or five other songs from the album to represent the good half of St. Vincent. I say 'the good half', but that's a little harsh. It's all sweeping, intricate, on a grand scale and performed beautifully. What I really mean is 'the half that I took to'.

St. Vincent - Jesus Saves, I Spend mp3 (available for 7 days)

You can also buy Marry Me on iTunes. Visit St. Vincent's myspace page to hear three more songs from the album - I'll regret it if you don't! I'm fairly sure that within a month I will have been completely won over by the unique sound of St. Vincent.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Three of a kind #6

Three songs about (or at least namechecking) stars of the silver screen today: Lee Remick from The Go-Betweens' 78 'til 79 - The Lost Album; Michael Caine from Divine Madness; and Theda Bara from The Hot Puppies' excellent Under The Crooked Moon.

Now, if you're a bit of a philistine like me, you may not know who Theda Bara is - or was, rather. In short, that's her sprawled across that rock in the picture on the right. She was a silent film star in the early part of the last century - an extremely famous one for a while, too. Basically, if I'd have written this blog entry 90 years ago, they'd have been landing here via Google in their droves!

It's funny how some stars get largely written out of history, though. I'd never even heard Theda Bara's name until I first caught that Hot Puppies song; even then it was months before I made the connection about her being a former film star. There's actually an entire 1915 movie in which she starred, A Fool There Was, over on You Tube for anyone curious to see her in action (and with a spare 67 minutes and 25 seconds on their hands!).

The Go-Betweens - Lee Remick mp3

The Hot Puppies - Theda Bara mp3

Madness - Michael Caine mp3

(tracks available for seven days)

Buy The Go-Betweens, Hot Puppies and Madness stuff here

Monday, 3 September 2007

"She’ll leave her mark upon you without warning"

Lots of people seem to shamefully admit to being folk music fans. Not me. I'm never in any danger of being trendy and I have absolutely no qualms about proclaiming myself a fully paid-up member of the accordian-loving, woolly jumper-wearing, weirdy-beardy folk brigade!

Karine PolwartOne of my favourite folky types is Karine Polwart, a political Scot who has collaborated with the likes of Roddy Woomble, has been nominated three times (and won twice) for Best Original Song at the UK-wide BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and previously taught philosophy to primary school children. She's certainly no lightweight and tackles a lot of important and sometimes distressing subjects in her music. Always thought-provoking and (more pleasingly) memorably melodic she's well worth a listen. John and I saw her live last year and came away from the gig much bigger fans than before we went. She's witty, engaging and pretty much mesmerising when she's singing.
I would have loved to put up a live version of Azalea Flower (click for lyrics), which is one of the best things I've ever heard live, but I'm not sure a recording exists currently. Suffice to say it would make you think entirely differently about folk music. It really made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

The first song I'm putting up is Skater of the Surface from Polwart's debut album, Faultlines, and is a soft-sounding but powerful condemnation of the type of person who never bothers to look more deeply into things. It delivers one of my favourite insult lines from any song: "And if it's true that ignorance is bliss, then you must be coming all the time." Ouch! Hear the aural slap in the face below - a left click link.

Karine Polwart - Skater of the Surface mp3 (available for 7 days)

You Can't Weld A Body is a (bloody good) demo song with more traditional style folk lyrics. It's a beautiful track about love and shipbuilding. (Another left clicker)

Karine Polwart - You Can't Weld A Body mp3 (available for 7 days)

If you liked those then please head over to Karine Polwart's website to listen to more songs and buy the CDs.

I only have one complaint about her - she rarely uses standard guitar tuning. So for clumsy chimps like me who can only just about get their guitars in tune in the standard way, it's almost impossible to attempt to play her songs! But then, maybe that's to the benefit of all mankind...

Saturday, 1 September 2007

It's Immaterial

It's Immaterial were a Liverpool band active between 1980 and 1990, centred around permanent band members John Campbell and Jarvis Whitehead - along with, at differing times, various local musicians including Henry Priestman, later of The Christians.

The band recorded several sessions for John Peel, although this wasn't how I first discovered them: no, had it not been for their one pop 40 hit, the bewitchingly curious Driving Away From Home (a #18 smash in 1986, and officially unlike anything else in the charts at the time - or since!), the chances are the teenage, chart-obsessed me would never even have stumbled across this great combo.

Here's the band performing the song on what I assume must've been their one and only appearance on Top of the Pops.

Even better than the above, for me, was the follow-up single, Ed's Funky Diner (which inexplicably fizzled out at a disappointing #65 in the same year. Swizz!). A much more straightforward, conventional pop song than Driving Away..., Ed's was an upbeat number that had hit (I said hit) written all over it; or should've had, at any rate. But, in a UK singles landscape at the time dominated by such, umm, timeless classics as Chris De Bleurgh's The Lady In Red and Boris Gardiner's I Want To Wake Up With You (ironically one of the most snooze-inducing songs ever), what sort of chance did our brave boys have of competing for the nation's musical affections? None!

It's Immaterial - Ed's Funky Diner mp3 (up for seven days; left click to download)

It's Immaterial - Driving Away From Home (Jim's Tune) mp3 (up for seven days; left click to download)

Not merely satisfied with recording two of the greatest singles of the year, It's Immaterial also came up with one of the best album titles ever - Life's Hard and Then You Die. It contains both the aforementioned tracks - plus eleven others - and is still available to buy on CD (very reasonably priced too) from here